This is not about knitting classic afghans. It’s about taking the element of yarn to build an art form that is unexpected and unconventional. It’s about having a vision that transcends ordinary imagination to construct an entity that can be sublime, artful and perhaps even curious.
At 76, Sheila Hicks is considered the grand doyenne of fiber art. Born in Nebraska, studied with Josef Albers at Yale, Sheila has traveled for her work in Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Morocco, India, and also Paris where she has lived since the 1960s while sharing her studio time in New York. With numerous awards and in celebrated collections of museums internationally, she has honed a career that has led to huge commissioned fiber art sought by companies such as the Target Corporation for their Minneapolis headquarters and Ford Foundation for their New York headquarters. At a recent exhibition of her work, Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the viewer can relish the intimate delicacy of her small fiber art as well as the enormity of pieces than can span upwards of 20 feet high. Her textile sensitivity embraces incredible colors, a range of fibers, extraordinary textures, meticulous craftsmanship, unexpected materials and bold drama. “My work is based on emotional responses to visual impressions or to the need to express an idea – to give it form. Color, texture, concept, scale, and structure are inextricably linked” says Sheila Hicks. Probably best known for her coil wrapping technique with fibers, there is also diversity in her work as evidenced by La Clef, 1988, a lyrical grouping of rubber bands that playfully loop together with a metal key. She has merged the world of craft with fine art. Always improvising, she once turned over her dining room table and used its legs to create a loom and has used broom sticks to knit with. Yet Sheila’s dynamic and somewhat mysterious personality aligns itself well with her innate ability to interact with an audience, interpret possibilities and yet retain some privacy about her business of producing art.
When fiber artists take the privacy of a women’s bra to public art space, there’s plenty of humor and metaphors. Laura Jacobs transforms this feminine garment using everything from crab claws and fish heads to antique glass and mother of pearl and the results are artful fantasy. In fact, the creative conversion of bras into an art form has inspired numerous competitions and exhibits to successfully fundraise for breast cancer research. Many of these events are scheduled annually because they draw a big crowd, enjoy lots of press, stir plenty of smiles and positively contribute to a worthwhile cause. And when your old bra is worn out, maybe it’s time to give it a second life as a handbag. Many crafters are having fun with this approach and step by step instructions are available on the web.
A new approach for extreme fiber artists is knitted graffiti. Also called yarn bombing, it has transformed public spaces with color and texture and warmth. Think that lamppost doesn’t need a sweater or tree trunks aren’t yearning for a new soft cover? Well some guerilla knitters and crocheters have decided this for you. The movement started with a group of Texan artists led by Magda Sayeg who formed Knitta in 2005 to bring rich, colorful fiber experiences to the urban landscape. Having installed work around the United States, Magda also ignited her creative fiber sparks in London, Sydney, Rome, Milan, Prague, Montreal, Mexico City and even atop the Great Wall of China. In honor of the 60th anniversary of Bergère de France, the first manufacturer of French yarn, Knitta was invited to Paris to "revitalize urban landscapes with knitted pieces". Now organized with a recent International Yarnbombing day (June 11, 2011), it’s a formal movement that has a global presence.
There’s no right or wrong in fiber art today; it’s all welcome expressions of new approaches to craft and to art. So maybe it’s time to put your patterns back in a drawer and build your fiber fantasies. Remember that there are no mistakes only many solutions and endless possibilities.
Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try! ~Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!