When it comes to an artist couple, it is almost as fascinating to watch the relationship between the two unfold through their work as it is to focus on them as individual artists. Often with romantic pairs, ideas cross-pollinate. One affects the other’s style and form, and in some cases, two minds seem to merge into a single artistic force. Think Jean Claude and Cristo, Gilbert and George, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.
While Letitia Huckaby, who has a show on view at the South Dallas Cultural Center, and her husband Sedrick, who recently exhibited at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, haven’t yet collaborated on any specific works, it’s impossible not to see that the bodies of work of these Fort Worth-based artists are growing closer together. Sedrick’s latest exhibition represented a momentous step forward in terms of style and content. He moved away from his customary vignettes of home life, often populated with iconic images of African-American culture, and began to focus on one image in particular: handmade quilts that have been passed down by his family as heirlooms. Working on large wall-sized canvases, Sedrick’s paintings create huge and fascinating emotional landscapes by focusing on the shape and color-shifting form of quilts made with found materials.
The image of the quilt forms an obvious parallel with Letitia Huckaby’s work at the South Dallas Cultural Center. In her exhibit, the photographer displays sculptural-like dresses made of quilt materials, and framed quilts made of various fabrics, with photographs printed on them. The images have been reconfigured and stitched together. Both artists are dealing with ideas of incarnation – memory embodied in physical objects. They are each questioning how the ritual of handing down, across time and generations, causes objects to become more than objects. Both also call attention to the handcrafted quilts themselves as the art of their ancestors. By repositioning these crafted objects in the context of their own artistic form, for Sedrick painting and for Letitia photography, they manage to elevate the objects themselves to the level of art. These representations of quilts and quilt making remove functionality from the idea of the quilt, thus making the heirlooms function the incarnate objects the Huckabys see them to be.
For Letitia, her current body of work represents an artistic development that would have been unthinkable had it not been for her relationship with her husband.
Letitia Huckaby: In undergrad I was doing more documentary-type photography. Sedrick was painting quilts, so I was around quilts a lot. Then my father died shortly before I started graduate school. He was from this small town in Mississippi that was the fourth largest producer of cotton in the country. After he passed, it got me to thinking about where I was from and how I got to be where I was. And I started to look at the quilts [Sedrick] was painting differently. They started having more meaning to me, and so I wanted to start playing with that. And I started experimenting with images on fabric, and then quilting them together.
Sedrick Huckaby: I’ve been putting [quilts] in my paintings for years. Originally they were backdrops in different paintings, and we got them in the family. So we slept in them when we went to my grandparents’ house. And they end up being backdrops, and then at some point, I think during grad school, I decided the quilts were enough of a subject not to be the backdrop, but to be the subject of a painting too. And that came about through mostly cultural study. I started to realize that we always sort of liked the quilts – we had them around, they were sort of family heirlooms. But after studying, I started to realize that they were my grandmother’s art. And so it was something to be an artist, and this became an opportunity to investigate a kind of family legacy through art. Hers was quilt making, and mine is painting. So it was a kind of dialogue. And the interesting thing that happened to me at some point is what started off as a personal investigation, I began to show the quilts around, and I began to find out that this history of quilt making was something that had a profound effect on so many people.
Letitia Huckaby: I had a quilt from my great grandmother that I had in my room as an undergrad in Austin. But for me it was just a blanket at the time. I didn’t really start thinking about it as art until after I was with [Sedrick], and I started losing family members: that this was handmade for use and these things get handed down, very similar to the things that you learn in a family – your faith, or how to raise your kids, your personality. The quilt is a kind of physical representation of that, and it is a beautiful art piece in its own right, that they just took and made out of scraps and made something beautiful. So for me, I use the quilt a lot as a compositional tool, referencing sort of a conversation between them and me making art – sort of what he was saying about her art and his art. I use the patterns and the way they lay things out and incorporate them into my photographs.
Main images: From Letitia Huckaby’s series “LA 19.”