Nicola Hicks’ exhibition, which is of work done this year, shows her to be a prodigious worker–a worker with raw energy, plaster, straw and earth coloured pigments.
She has created a bestiary. And through these animals we are confronted with our evolution. The fact that we developed a brain and stood up on two legs cannot divorce us from our roots. Her animals are not anthropomorphic but rather the reverse: they are human emotions and actions translated into animal terms. The work reminds us of our condition.
The life-sized sculptures are sensual, tough, gritty. Fall for Love depicts a bull on its back with a horse tumbling over it. It is wonderful. Over and Over Again (a cow on its back) makes one want to do much the same. She has created goats, dogs, hares, cows, hogs (hogs being ‘just about the most perfect shape you could ever imagine. If I was going to invent an animal from scratch I couldn’t devise anything better’) and so on.
Even though one knows that the making of sculpture has its laborious and practical hard-worked side, her sculptures retain a fresh-smelling quality. There is no interest in refinement, seeing in such refinement a deadening of the spirit. And hence her use of direct materials as opposed to more traditional materials. In 1986 at a show of her work at Angela Flowers (Ireland) Inc. in Co. Cork she showed some mud works that with time returned to the earth that formed them. She has worked in bronze (and tucked away in another part of the gallery there is a bronze greyhound) but she has not yet found good cause to use such permanent material often.
Her drawings have elemental force. She chooses not to frame them, preferring to pin their odd shapes direct to the wall, no doubt understanding that the image needs no confining and the paper on which she has drawn them (brown wrapping paper) would sit uneasily in a frame. Just try putting a Hicks elephant (and she rode one into the bush on a recent trip to India to accompany a British Council touring exhibition of nature paintings) into a neat frame. These creatures need their freedom.
Her knowledge and empathy with animals are her strength. She knows the form and structure of every species she depicts. She draws to understand them anatomically as well as passionately and lives her life surrounded by animals (‘they are essential to me and remind me of what life is all about’) though not as many as she would like.
It is good to see the work in the larger space. Flowers East is a new extension of Angela Flowers that has only recently opened. It is not a breathtaking space (it is too divided for that) but it is more suitable for works like these: all creatures, including humans, have elbow room.
In 1984, Hicks had a slot in Angela Flowers’ inventive ‘artist of the day’ series while still at the Royal College of Art. The following year she was given her first solo exhibition at the Tottenham Mews space and she had her second there a year later. At the Tottenham Mews space it was a bit like being in Noah’s Ark. After all, there were only meant to be two humans on board. But the RSCPA can rest assured that this year there is plenty of breathing space for each and every living soul!
Art in Bulk is showing cheap oil paintings here to 2 Dec, after which is showing ‘freedom’ a book is in aid of Amnesty International, which includes works by Elisabeth Frink, Eileen Cooper, Therese Oulton, Maggi Hambling and Matilda Harrison.