Note: This continuing series reposts some of the most memorable columns of Suzy’s Fancy, which ran from 2009-2020. This piece originally ran in October 2014.
Sedrick Huckaby is a Yale-educated artist from Fort Worth whose paintings and drawings are included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the African American Museum in Dallas, among others.
Honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship and numerous other awards, Huckaby has had his work displayed to much acclaim all over the United States.
Family has always been at the core of Huckaby’s work, and often it has centered on portraits and scenes of home life in African-American culture. In recent years, however, his focus has shifted to a particular aspect of that home life: quilts.
Like many people who grow up around quilts as everyday objects, Huckaby more or less considered them part of the scenery, so to speak—they were just always there. It was not until he entered graduate school that he began to view them as works of art in their own right.
As he learned more about traditions handed down from generation to generation, he began to notice how certain cultural elements manifested themselves in the quilts made by the women in his family.
“I had an ah-ha moment when I realized that the African aesthetic I’d been studying was present in my own family’s quilts,” he says. “Certain things that looked good to my Grandmother’s eye for example, such as asymmetrical designs, had been passed down and were being embodied in her quilts. I realized that while my artform was painting, her artform was quilting. And we began to have an artist-to-artist dialogue.
“Even though I had been putting quilts in my paintings for years, they were mostly backdrops. In 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. Looking at my grandmother’s quilts as her art became an opportunity to investigate a kind of family legacy through art,” Huckaby continues.
“What started off as a personal investigation turned into something much bigger. I began to show the quilts around, and I began to find out that this history of quiltmaking was something that had a profound effect on so many people. As I thought deeper and deeper about it, I realized that quilts embody love at such a basic level in so many ways. You get totally wrapped up in them.”
Huckaby’s canvases are large—wall-sized even—and his signature technique is the use of lots and lots of paint, to the point that the paintings become almost like relief sculptures. The texture of the paintings mirrors the textural quality of the quilts themselves, thus furthering the “dialogue” between the painter and the quilter.
“When a quilt is handed down, it becomes more than just the object. It’s not just about the functionality of the quilt—it’s also about ancestors and the rituals of passing important information from one generation to another,” Huckaby sums up. “It’s about family.”