A pioneer of the art world since her emergence in the 1970s, Kiki Smith has a diverse practice involving several different media, and an eclectic style blending formalist technique with non-traditional and outsider art. Within this wide-ranging mix, two of Smith’s most frequently recurring subjects are the human body and narratives adapted from mythology or folktale. Widely acclaimed for their representation of both the physical, carnal and the dream-like, Smith’s images can amaze with their familiarity as well as their alien-ness. The relationships between humans and nature, or humans and animals, appear frequently in Smith’s work, as do inanimate objects endowed with lifelike qualities. This spirituality attached to the body is attributed by Smith to her Catholic upbringing, and it greatly informs the work that she produces.
In Her Memory, Smith has made several large-scale cut-outs from tissue-like Nepalese paper and attached them to the pages of an exhibition catalogue. This catalogue, from 2009, features her signature body-based work coupled with appropriated and altered famous female figures such as the Virgin Mary or suffragettes. Keeping in this theme, the most eye-catching cut-out attached to the book is a larger-than-life-sized figure of a woman outlined in ink and puffy glue and glitter, signaling Smith’s reliance on craft or non-traditional art materials. Some of the cut-outs, such as this one, feature drawings, while others contain etchings and rubbings. Many relate to the works illustrated on the opposite page. For example, in one place the patterned bark of a tree trunk shown in the book has been replicated in a rubbing on the Nepalese paper, which folds out from the book. On several pages, Smith has taken graphite and added to the drawings illustrated, creating new drawings in the process. Her Memory thus represents Smith’s continuing ability to meld many different influences and desires in her art, and to tap the new and uncharted in her practice.
Kiki Smith (b. 1954), Her Memory. Ink, graphite, glitter and Nepalese paper on printed book with paper collage. Dimensions variable. Published in 2009 and executed in 2014.