The Canadian Art Database

John K. Grande

Nicola Hicks: Sculptures and Drawings

[ 678 words ]

For her first solo show ever in North America, at Galerie Bellefeuille, Nicola Hicks has populated the gallery space with a legion of part-human, part-animal hybrids. These neo-mythological bronzes are not literal transpositions of ancient themes; they are born of Hicks's imagination, crafted fusions that draw on global and archaic cultural sources. Hicks comments: "The most precious qualities that humans have are the ones that we share with animals: the qualities we are deeply in touch with subconsciously and maybe totally out of touch with in our conscious state."

When renowned sculptress Dame Elizabeth Frink invited Nicola Hicks to exhibit at the Angela Flowers Gallery in their 1985 Artists for a Day show Hicks's talent was first recognized. That same year she created a humourous scruffy straw dog in the round titled Avant Garde Dog (1985) using straw, plaster and clay. Hicks's animals looked as if they had just emerged out of primordial mud and would eventually return there. Outdoor on-site commissions followed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (Mother and Child, 1986) and a large-scale recreation of a watchful ewe from the Biblical tragedy, The Fields of Akeldama (1986), dug into a hilltop at Downeen in County Cork, Ireland. These representations used local clays integrated into the surrounding landscape. Visits to India (1987), Japan (1988) and Sydney, Australia (1989/90) expanded Hicks's bestiary to include kangaroos, elephants, sheep, alligators, wart hogs, horses and her own pet greyhound Rocket. A vertical construction of turtle shells decorated with spiral and circular painted motifs, Song Dream (1990) reinterpreted the Australian aborigines' culture specific songlines. In Flint to Flint (1990) and Spiny Fish (1990) the forms are as ambiguous and estranged as Louise Bourgeois's daunting arrangements of body parts and matter, but the sense here is less of societal fear than of primordial awakening.

The bronzes on view at Galerie Bellefeuille lack some of the vitality of Nicola Hicks's original plaster, clay and straw works which are less maquettes than finished pieces. The human body, whether young or old, is conceived as a container for ageless human consciousness. If these works suffer, it is from too much academic precision; Hicks's mentors include Rodin, Degas, Moore, and Germain Richer. Show me a Man and I'll Show You a Boy (1997) is a life-size wolf-man whose stance is, surprisingly, not archaic but "civilized" and modern. In Recovered Memory (1997) a similar wolf-woman stands head and shoulders next to a child. The tension between the two figures in this Little Red Riding Hood story is deeper and more threatening for its unstated narrative. Patinated to look like grey clay, the bronze Bull Woman (1996) is a fearful figure with a ghastly grimace and gesturing hands that read like horns on her head. Pandora (1992) is an altogether different work, ghostlike, a holocaust memory. One senses the experience of time and love's labour lost in the grief and sadness of the woman's face, as well as her love for the child she cradles in her arms. Despite the piece's aura of personal tragedy, the viewer senses growth in spiritual strength. Among Hicks's preparatory charcoal drawings, Princess Edie II (1997) is the most unusual; it depicts a child princess old before her time, quite the opposite of Virginia Woolf's eternally young Orlando, instead this child is an Elizabethan oddity dressed up in frock and collar and served up in the age of Big Science.

Hicks's bestiary of humans, animals and neo-mythological hybrids articulate human and animal anatomy convincingly, not only the surfaces of plumage, skin and hair but the bodily structures disguised beneath as well. Animated, viewer friendly, these creatures become singular commentaries on our primordial links to the natural world that draw us to our animal cousins. Deeply personal, Hicks's sculptures are the expressions of a singular consciousness fused in such a way they present reality as a meta-state, open to any number of interpretations.

Sculpture Magazine

Text: © John K. Grande. All rights reserved.

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