kiki smith is the artist i go to most when i need a hug, comfort to continue. she is a mother for me, and has been since the very first time i saw her work. the loud astonishment that flooded in while i sat in a quiet, dusty aisle at the library- amazement. and the quick "permission" that came to speak about your own life, your own perceptions of what it is to be female, to be conflicted about the world, your own needs and desires.
yesterday, i carried a book of her work around with me- the catalogue for HER MEMORY. and all this morning too. back and forth between coffee and the spider and then flipping through her images: tattooed women with heart shapes and birds and lightning bolts, paper mache light bulbs, wreaths made from hand carved rubber stamps of child-like leaves, coffins, and chairs with wobbly legs. huge collaged prints, all in black and white, attacthed sheets of paper so that the image occupies an irregular ground. the crinkliness of the work, the scratchy lines, dried flowers, flowers leaning toward death.
there are images in her work that feel so familiar to me. flowers and windows, especially. two images i used to repeat myself with all the time but that i haven't really worked with in years now until recently. a few months ago they started popping back up in the work. roses again. all in black and white and silver. and i keep my book of redoute's prints near. and i remember how, when i was little, i'd flip through books in our humble bookcase looking for pictures and i'd come across pressed flowers- the passage of my mother. actions of preserving some small joy. some small beauty.
i've been thinking about my childhood a lot for the passed several months. little memories of books and drawings and picking flowers, bringing home stray cats, hiding in bushes so no one would hear me sing, making sure to be outside when the first star appeared so i could get my wish...
and my love for paper, for laying down marks with ink or graphite has roots in these things. the common nature of it. humble. adorable. easy. within reach. the substrate for secrets- diaries and hidden poems, snippets of songs, notes passed in class, letters that were never sent, letters that were never meant to be sent. paper is a signifier of The Personal- private thoughts and actions. and lately, i've been thinking of the drawings (all the work, really) as a form of writing. the diary aspect of these images. the collection/excavation of memory. hope, fear, need, desire, love, hate, recuperation, reckoning.
and at the back of the book, gone unnoticed until last night, there are two poems she wrote. and this knowledge - kiki smith cares about poetry enough to write it - overwhelmed me with such a sense of gladness and confidence:
when the bird flew in and without
apprehension she could say yes
dreams in corners out of range sitting at
the kitchen table when you came in and
spoke there had been a chance and she saw
for a moment
all pressed and close and then it dissipated
you could just sit there and the bird could
come in and you could succumb maybe she
hesitated when called
how do you feel when the bird touched
some birds touch anyone some girls are
holy holy night she had her back turned
stomach to bed the rays came in first
she didn't have a first inclination that the
bird had been there but the song lingered
she waited the flutter passed but still she
had been touched
old habits are slow ones and she is not a
quitter not sitting waiting for the bird's
breath scratching pecking she goes
excavating into the shadows touching dark.
i experience this poem as such a huge hug. and also a call to action. or maybe, more specifically, a call to confidence...
i am okay with the fact that i need to roll around in the shadows for awhile. i need to reach in to the dark stuff and leave my hand in long enough to know its shape by feel alone. collect the little glittering bits of childhood, of those unsent letters, and make wreaths of my own. press them like mama's flowers. hide them in books. let them scratch and scratch and give them a window of their own.
(this is a weird, but good, artist statement maybe?)
these texts are an archive of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area from march 2007 - march 2015. it stands as a record of close to a decade of my life, charting the struggles i faced as an artist, daughter, and lover. messy and chaotic at times, eloquent and poetic at others, these texts are an index i am proud of. it was here in this electric box that i learned how to be honest about my experiences and the person i needed to become. it was here that i first learned the truism that words make the world and how to trust such a beautiful, rife, hard fact.
thank you for meeting me here in such tall grass.
my artist website is here.
my artist website is here.