On a cold and rainy November day in 1989 I decided to go see the Brooklyn Print Biennial. It was a challenge to get to Brooklyn because of flooded streets but my trusty Volvo was up to the task. I was the only visitor in the biennial exhibition, which was beautifully installed and curated by Barry Walker. Barry had chosen several new and interesting artists’ prints but one print in particular stuck out among the others. I was standing in front of it, mesmerized by its creative approach to its paper handling and printing. Impressed by how much emotion it evoked in me, when Barry approached I asked who the artist was. It was Kiki Smith—Barry called her later at my request and she agreed to see me in her studio the following week.
The studio was in her house between Stanton and Rivington near Katz Deli on Houston. It was a five story walk up and she threw the key out the window for me to catch to open the downstairs door. The kitchen was occupied by cages for homing pigeons while a large table in the center of the living room was covered in crystal made into shapes similar to images seen under a microscope of human sperm. There were objects everywhere. I tried not to bump into anything as she gave me a tour. In less than an hour I was smitten by Kiki and knew this creative person had to make prints at ULAE. She had already acknowledged she knew that I was “that guy that made prints on Long Island.” So I invited her to come to the studio. When she asked what should she bring to work with, I said “just bring yourself.” Her first print was Untitled (Hair) (1990) from her own hair. We copied it, we transferred it, we bought fresh corn and used the tassels to add image to the hair. For her next one, she put her face on the copy machine and we transfer the copies onto litho stones and plates. She used photos of her eyes, face and silver foil appliqué to create 12 separate images to complete her second print which she titled Banshee Pearls (1991). She made prints related to her body for almost seven years before moving on to other subject matter.
I have never met an artist or person like Kiki Smith and to this day my love and admiration for her continues to grow. I am grateful she agreed to answer my questions.
Bill Goldston (Rail): Kiki does printmaking have an influence on your creative thinking in your primary medium?
Kiki Smith: Printmaking is a primary medium for me. It is more often the source from which I generate images that become drawings, sculpture, photography, tapestry, and film.
Rail: I just saw one of your beautiful tapestries in the print fair at the Javits Center. I know this is a little off the wall for me to ask, but do you really enjoy working with another person to make your images?
Smith: I feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity to collaborate with many great professional printmakers, student printers, friends, and even strangers. In each encounter one has the possibility of discovery and to be like a bee that takes the pollen to another flower, or print shop, or school, or artist.
Rail: Are you still as excited about the act of printmaking as in the beginning or is it now just another source of your livelihood?
Smith: I am endlessly excited to discover the depth and subtlety that printmaking reveals as well as to learn both historically and in contemporary life the magnitude of the impact of printmaking on our lives. And printmaking has kept me alive more often than not and for that I am very grateful. Making a living enables me to pursue my interests in depth.