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Have you been off grid yet?

This last month I was pleased to be traveling near Wakefield and able to visit the exhibition currently at the Hepworth Gallery: Shelia Hicks Off Grid

This is her first UK exhibition which spans 70 years of her work. The title refers to the ways that this artist has deviated from traditional geographical and conceptual paths and has moved fluidly between textiles, sculpture, architecture, and design whist working in many countries of the world.

If you take the lift to this first-floor exhibition, as I did, don't miss the boules in the stairwell! These mixed fibre wrappings in various sizes have also been called soft stones, metiors, or boules. I loved the variety of texture and colour in these.

There were some deeper, larger ones in a cordoned-off corner of one of the gallery rooms but these frustrated me as I felt they should have been able to be interacted with. Of course, I understand the need to have "do not touch" signs on many of the exhibits but there were a few that really would have been possible to interact with. We are told that the boules are presented differently in each exhibition space, so why not allow visitors to arrange them?

I share Hick's interest in the social properties of second-hand fabrics but her massive exhibit (not pictured) consisting of piles of dyed nurses' uniforms (some with a little bold stitching) seemed unimaginative without the provision of interaction!

A nice touch were some questions on the walls, in this case asking why the artist has chosen to use recycled clothes in her sculptures and inviting us to imagine our clothes becoming sculptures and what stories they would tell.

Cordes Sauvages - a hanging sculpture of wrapped mixed fibres, inspired me more in the use of form and space and I show a detail of this:

"Calligraphy Sauvages", a later piece below, is an example of drawing a parallel between the crafts of writing and weaving. Hicks sees interlocking threads to create a weaving as akin to joining letters into words. I enjoyed "reading" the exhibition.

Amongst the large exhibits were a selection of the thousand "minimes" or "miniatures" small-scale weaving often created by Hicks on her travels. I especially liked the mixed media ones including found objects such as quills in Itaka shown below

I was on my way back from my break on a coast and island of Scotland, and I am simultaneously calmed and inspired by the ocean. La Mer installation was interesting as it had originally been on a wall but was reconfigured here as a cascade of linen with copper-coloured synthetic raffia depicting the glint of sunlight on the surface of the water.

In a recent interview with Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian, Hicks shares how her main focus now is colour, and her enjoyment: “Everything I do is only intended for one person, I like it, and I like doing it.” The rest – conversations with curators, or publishers, or architects – that’s a second-order matter". So Hicks should be pleased with the review of this exhibition by Jessica Klingelfuss in Wallpaper as "a career-spanning celebration of voluminous form and vibrant colour"

Although a few of the pieces are natural (without colour) such as She Came She Went a recent woven linen piece shown below, colour is the main element of this collection.


My other main lasting impression is that of inspired simplicity and letting the coloured textile speak for themselves. For example, one of the large wall pieces Peace Barrier is linen yarn around a wooden panel. There were other fantastic colour combinations and I could also see these panels being used as room dividers since they are double-sided.

This same effective simplicity was evident in the Masterworks Envelopes created this year consisting of linen, silk and metallic thread wound around and through a book. Although not easy to photograph through the acrylic protection, it held me, as I read it without turning a page.

My visit was on a lovely summer day so i was able to enjoy some time in the Gallery garden ( free to visit btw) The garden like the exhibition, is a riot of form and colour and includes Gabriel Reaching For Heaven, an outdoor instilation by Hicks where twisted coloured cords ripple and sway in response to the changing environmental conditions. At last here was a piece I could touch!

This exhibition is on until September 25th, and a visit costs £12 (which includes a few other smaller exhibitions). There are free lockers to store any belongings but their car park is extra. At quiet times though you may find a space in the free car park a little further down the road - opposite the Clifton Trade Bathrooms back door. There is also a grassed area next to this car park alongside the river.

I would love to know if you have visited the Off Grid exhibition, and what your thoughts and favourite pieces were. please do share in the comments.

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