Kiki Smith: a master in representing the human body and natural world
Kiki Smith is an artist who is known for working with many different materials; glass, plaster, ceramic and bronze as well as paint, embroidery, printing and various textile techniques. Smith’s early work addressed in particular the human body. Representing the fragmented body both inside and out as well as how the body relates to the world that surrounds it was how she mastered its representation and demonstrated its importance. She has therefore become an extremely proficient artist in terms of considering the female form, treating it with integrity and vulnerability.
Her works often contain natural imagery – birds, animals, and the cosmos. Birds in particular indicate nature’s inherent fragility but also a sense of shared spirituality and religion. Smith often confronts the experience of childhood in her works when she re-elaborates myths and legends, alluding to narratives and stories which are familiar to the viewer.
Kiki Smith studied art history and the influence of centuries of visual culture is evident in her work. Ancient tapestries, early Renaissance European painting and Victorian children’s books are all artistic references that we recognise in her work. Her work also addresses collective themes of death, birth, regeneration and decay. Correspondingly, the image or sense of a powerful female figure permeates her works.
Smith doesn’t work in a studio but chooses communal environments like universities, foundries and various workshops. In these places, the sense of collaboration and learning from people who have specific practical and artistic knowledge is something which contributes to her practise.