Kiki Smith is among the most innovative sculptors and printmakers of the contemporary period, emerging in the 1980s amid a resurgence of interest in the figurative tradition. An ardent collaborator, she has been a committed printmaker since the mid-1980s and has completed more than one hundred fifty published prints and books in formats ranging from monumental multimedia prints and elaborate livres d'artistes to screenprinted tattoos and rubber stamps. Photography has also played an important role in her printmaking, particularly in the numerous self-portraits she completed in the 1990s at Universal Limited Art Editions and her most recent forays with digital prints at Pace Editions. Smith blurs the boundaries between prints and drawings, since many of her unique works on paper are printed.
In her earliest work she addressed the fragility yet enduring spirit of life in stark, poignant depictions of internal and external fragments of the human body. Representing the body was Smith's way of learning about it and showcasing the importance of corporeal concerns. In Sueño she depicts the flayed body of a figure, revealing the musculature of this huddled form. Exemplifying her sculptural approach to printmaking, Smith used her own body as the template, lying on the copperplate and allowing the printers to trace her outline.
In the mid-1990s she shifted her focus to the natural world, depicting birds, animals, and the cosmos in sculpture as well as prints and books. Birds have been of particular interest to her, both personally and symbolically, as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Peacock is the most commanding example of the many specimens she sketched in natural history museums, and later printed on several sheets of textured handmade paper in varying formats.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 256.