Somewhere between the natural and spiritual realms, the gritty bustle of New York City and the enchanting natural wonders waiting on its fringes, you'll find the artwork of Kiki Smith.
The New York-based artist, who works fluidly between drawing, sculpture, painting, textiles and most areas in between, has been an art world fixture since the 1970s. With unpretentious artworks that examine life's looming questions, Smith invites quiet yet active meditation on ritual, myth, femininity, nature and death.
Immediate and sophisticated, delicate yet fierce, Smith's work is as much constantly meandering as it is consistently hers. "Kiki Smith: Wonder," an exhibition at Pace Gallery, marks the 20th anniversary of the artist's first Pace exhibition in 1994. The extensive show, featuring works of aluminum, bronze, fine silver, textile, stained and hand-blown antique glass, and paint, features the range of Smith's technical abilities and the legibility of her style. Photographs morph into etched waterfalls, magnified hoarfrost sculptures resemble puzzle pieces and sculptures hover behind childhood and maturity. We reached out to Smith to learn more about the show.
Congratulations on the 20 year anniversary of your first solo show. Do you remember the experience of that 1994 exhibition? I was very excited to show my drawings. A lot of the images from that exhibition I still use in my work.
Is this current exhibition harkening back to this first show in any way? No, but you know it's not disconnected; it's all connected anyway.
Do you feel more freedom or ease in your work after making art for so many years? I've felt free my whole life. I have slightly more knowledge about how to make things or do things now, but I always say you're just following your work. In a certain sense, you're always being challenged to learn and investigate new things or new ways of making things or new technical aspects of things. It's dynamic and always moving and that's what keeps it vital and exciting.
Tell me about "The Falls." Is this a self portrait? I have been living half the time in upstate New York for the past couple of years. A lot of the show, certainly the stained glass and the trees, that comes from this creek that was very affected by the hurricane. We had around 150 trees go down because of the strength of the water, everything was rushing around and changing the landscape. Living here, those things become much more primary in my consciousness. Making images is the way we learn about being here. In this work, I guess I saw myself as a waterfall.
I lived in New York for 30 years and everything that happens is exciting and exhilarating. It might be something about getting older, but I'm really appreciating what nature offers if you pay attention to it.
Your work is so in tune with nature, I find it surprising you've chosen to live in New York. Do you see as much beauty in the city as you do in nature? Yes, I appreciate the artists in New York and the life it affords. But I'm also very privileged to live in the East Village where we have hawks and great horned owls and parks. And, I'm not supposed to talk about it, but I have such an appreciation for rats.
You mean how they look? I just think they're incredible, resourceful, smart animals -- like birds or cats or things that have adapted to human environments.
But also, we are nature and how we organize ourselves is natural. We are living organisms. I like the city as much as being in nature, but I find being upstate that I don't put the same pressure on myself for what I'm supposed to accomplish or do in a day. I get as much done but it gets done in a softer pace.
Would you consider these works environmentalist? No, but I think we've certainly seen a tremendous amount of change and prediction for greater change in the environment. It has been a great loss for us; we are interdependent with the natural world. We are part of the natural world and our identity is completely attached to our relationship to our habitat and animals. I am making images for things I think merit attention. It's a quieter way.
In "The Falls" you can see your constellation tattoos. Do you consider these an artwork as well? They're just my personal collection.
Crescent Bird, 2011
Rogue Stars, 2012
Hoarfrost with Rabbit, 2014
The Falls, 2013
"Wonder" runs until March 29, 2014 at Pace Gallery in New York.