Pat Hickman: Art with animal guts

by Patty Templeton

Pat Hickman’s art has an expansive beauty. It’s uncluttered, thoughtful, and imbued with an ethereality. Hickman’s works become startling when it’s revealed that she has a penchant for creating with animal gut and hog casings. It’s a trixie sort of splendor that broadens the audience’s view on the elegance of what’s inside us all.

Hickman is a Colorado native who will have two shows opening in Durango on Friday, Sept 8. “Still Here” will open at Fort Lewis College, and the Durango Arts Center will host “Here, Still.” These exhibits will showcase about 40 artworks by Hickman.

DGO spoke to Hickman about her upcoming art openings, her signature materials, and fiber and textile artists finally getting their due.

Welcome back to Colorado! We hear you grew up here. I grew up in the northeastern part of the state in Fort Morgan. I welcome this opportunity to return to the state of Colorado and to really think about the impact of place on my work, reflecting on how Colorado has mattered to me even though I have lived elsewhere most of my life. I feel like part of me is still here and that it has had an impact and shaped my work.

What first made you want to work with such intimate materials? My father was a butcher in a grocery store in Fort Morgan. I used to watch him butcher animals and it was difficult for me.

I also had the opportunity to see Native Peoples use seal and walrus intestines in Alaska. I was teaching there in the summers in Fairbanks at the University of Alaska. I really admired the beauty of these inner membranes and how gut parkas were used as protective garments. Inside membranes were used on the outside as beautiful, transparent garments. I got really interested in thinking about how one could transform and make a material live even though it came from an animal that is no longer there.

Is your mindful creation a reaction to the frenetic pace of modern life? I think we all are racing a good bit of our lives and trying to meet deadlines. I do feel that I’ve tried to step outside of that, at least in my artwork, to feel like I have control over my time and my making, that it’s not externally imposed by someone deciding that I need to hop at that moment. It’s internally driven.

What artists who also work in a labor-intensive way do you take inspiration from?

I’m always touched by the work of Ann Hamilton. I find her work amazingly creative and innovative. She uses labor and comes out of a fiber tradition. She doesn’t deny that background. She responds to cloth and the quality of cloth through being trained in a textile and fiber art program, but she goes her own direction with that … It feels unexpected, broadens my own imagination, the installations she’s done.

I also admire the work Kimsooja. She’s a Korean artist and I think she draws on her heritage and background, though she does broader work past being based in Seoul, Korea. She’s in Paris, New York, and everywhere. I follow her work a lot.

Looking at your work, it’s almost like you maneuver people into a beautiful experience of an everyday material that might otherwise make them uncomfortable. I hope when people look at my work that they don’t just focus on the materials that I’ve used. I sometimes don’t say what the material is. I don’t want people to get stuck thinking at that level, that this is animal intestines. There are other things I’m trying to do with it.

Intestines are a surprisingly delicate material.

I’m really interested in allowing air to be a part of work, as if the work can breathe. Instead of having things tight and dense, I’m really interested in light and air and breath being part of my own work.

Do you think that fiber and textile artists are finally getting their due instead of being looked at as “crafters”?I think that fine artists, like painters and sculptors, are now using materials and techniques that fiber artists have been using for a very long time. They are finding that these are expressive materials and ways in which they can say things … I do think that other artists are beginning to look at these techniques and how to incorporate them into their own making. We’re breaking down those barriers which used to divide us as artists.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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