Peacock is the most monumental and commanding example of the many works by Smith based on sketches made in natural history museums and then printed on sheets of textured handmade paper. After emerging in the 1980s with confrontational sculptures of human figures and body parts, Smith shifted her focus in the mid-1990s to the natural world, depicting birds, other animals, and the cosmos in sculptural works as well as prints and books. For Smith, who was raised a Catholic, birds have a particular significance, both as a reference to the poignant beauty of the environment and as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Here, the authoritative majesty of the peacock's frontal stance reflects the artist's appreciation of this rare and magnificent creature.
Smith considers printmaking a vital part of her work, and she has become one of the most innovative and committed printmakers of the last two decades. She has said, "I could just make prints and be satisfied." To date, Smith has published over 150 prints and books, in formats ranging from monumental multimedium prints and elaborate livres d'artiste to screenprinted tattoos and rubber stamps. When she began working with imagery of birds and other animals, Smith discovered the detailed, refined line available in etching, and found it an irresistible medium for describing feathers and fur. In Peacock, her markings are so dense as to almost obscure the bird's face and body and turn the image into an abstraction. The formal delicacy of this work is enhanced by Smith's overt passion for the inherently tactile qualities of paper—a material that she has explored extensively in sculpture. Smith likes to work with translucent, skinlike sheets of handmade paper, folding them, pasting them together, and otherwise manipulating them in inventive and unexpected ways.
from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 364