ARTIST: Kiki Smith
TITLE AND EDITION: Red Breast, EV 200 plus 1 Archive Print, edition is variable with subtle changes in the position of the stamps and the color between each editioned print
MEDIUM: watercolor using rubber stamps
PAPER: Handmade Twinrocker paper
PRINT DIMENSIONS: 5 ¾ x 8 ½ inches
PRINTER: Kiki Smith
Kiki Smith on the development of the 2021 Presentation Print:
For Red Breast I wanted to revisit imagery of birds and death that I have reworked in previous projects. I’ve been interested in funerary imagery since I was a young artist living in Germany and In the 1990s I became aware of the amount of birds dying because of human encroachment on their environments. In 1998 I made Flight Mound for an exhibition in Pittsburgh at The Mattress Factory using images of birds that I had drawn from the collection at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. At that time I made images of the dead birds laying in a row, much like how specimen birds are kept in museum drawers. They were silkscreen printed on fabric and sewn into packing blankets which were stacked high like a burial mound.
Later, I took the same images and translated them into etching plates to make a long processional print that I had printed at Harlan and Weaver in New York. After that, I reduced the bird print on a Xerox machine, and made a small book titled The Fourth Day: Destruction of Birds for an exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York. I made rubber stamps from the Xeroxed images, made molds of them, from which castings were made in white bronze and silver. I showed them in an exhibition hung densely packed on the walls like a mass grave.
In 1998 I made a rubber stamp print of a dead bird with a sealed envelope in its beak for an AIDS benefit. About ten years later, I reused the rubber stamps to make a monoprint of a yellow bird and a star on Losin paper to give away as a benefit print. Everything is reused and revisited in my studio. In a great deal of my work I revisit and reuse the same images over and over and by returning to the same images after many years, they are allowed to reinvent themselves.
In the winter of 2020 I returned to the United States after isolating in Europe for several months. At that time, it seemed to make sense to return to my roots with an off-the-press print and to make a stamp print for the Print Club of New York which is something I often do when I am by myself and with limited access to a press. I teach advanced printmaking now online, due to the pandemic, which necessitates teaching off-the-press printing techniques. The constraints of the time require artists to be even more resourceful than usual.
After I thought of different things I could do for the Print Club, I thought to once again revisit the bird stamps and make a smaller, varied, version of the yellow bird and the star because it was something I could do at home. I have been impressed more and more by the economy, and the freedom of off-press-printing and enjoyed printing in a way that I did as a very young artist.
For Red Breast I took an image that I had drawn of a dead bird and reanimated it into a flying bird. I wanted to use just primary colors, even though within each color there is variation depending on my watercolor set and my whims. There is variation of movement in the stamps used so that from afar they look the same, but upon close inspection each one is unique. Over the past years of revisiting repeating imagery I am interested in similarity and difference.