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Fashion designer

Sheila Hicks moves seamlessly between dreaming and waking periods

The artist, who sleeps in four-hour blocks, is very busy, but often stops to observe the comings and goings in the courtyard of her Parisian building.

I arrived in Paris in the mid-1960s and have always lived three blocks from where I am today, in the Cour de Rohan, a series of three courtyards right in the middle of the city. It is very picturesque, with its large green iron gates and cobblestones, and at the entrance is the tower of Philippe Auguste, part of the old city walls built around 1400. This small area was the seat of the French Revolution, where people wrote and distributed Le Journal du Peuple, a series of pamphlets intended to move things in the right direction and to incite the elimination of all aristocrats. It’s a place full of ghosts because of its history. But above all, I am ignorant of all this; you can’t be haunted by the past.

I live on the upper floors of my building and my studio is on the ground floor. Still, the work could just as easily be happening while I’m on the stairs and watching out the window as someone trims the trees, or once I’ve entered the yard, where I’m hanging out. On one side of the house is The Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, where you eat on the sidewalk, and on the other side live various creative people. One is a designer for the opera. Another organizes fashion shows. And the Giacometti Foundation moved into the building across from my studio. It is therefore a cloistered but lively existence.

I tend to sleep in four hour segments and move very fluidly between dreaming and waking. When you see my work, you may be able to find your way into the dream world cave. There are times when I have to make an effort even to know what day it is. And I like to work on a lot of things simultaneously. For example, today I was asked to create an environmental artwork in King’s Cross near London Station for the summer months. I’m also doing something for a municipal complex near the port of Oslo to coincide with the opening of that city’s modern art museum. Tomorrow, we present models of tapestries at the Manufacture des Gobelins. And then I have an exhibition right now at Barbara Hepworth Museum in Yorkshire, England. I do whatever I find interesting.

I go from idea to finished work in an acrobatic way – it’s like I can feel the clouds moving and the light coming and going. But because I frequently use fibers and textiles, I am also quite specific in my way of working; unlike a videographer or digital artist, I am physically engaged in the creation of all my works. It is a manual practice but filtered through the lens of architecture, photography, form, material and color. A few years ago I received an honorary doctorate from my school — I went to Yale in the 1950s — and that made me very happy because it validated my choice to work and live as a artist. It meant I could bring something to other areas, and so I’m looking for what that might be, unlike a lot of artists, who are just looking to express themselves.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds