‘You Build Things Up Very Slowly’: Watch How Artist Kiki Smith Puts Her Own Unique Twist on Printmaking

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Kiki Smith poses next to her artwork at the 'Monnaie de Paris' on October 17, 2019 in Paris, France. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images.

The artist Kiki Smith likes to be comfortable, especially when she’s working on her extremely detailed prints, drawings, and tapestries—works that take time and patience to make.

“I really like that you just work really slowly,” she says of her printmaking process in particular, in an exclusive interview for Art21’s Extended Play series. “You build things up very slowly… I have to make about a million proofs of everything,” she says of her attempts to capture the nuances of human flesh using crosshatching and other techniques.

In the video, Smith is at the Harlan & Weaver printmaking workshop, laboring over Two (2002), a double portrait of her friend, Russian artist Dmitry Gaev, shown in profile.

Installation view, "Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer" at Modern Art, Oxford. Photo: Ben Westoby.

Installation view, “Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer” at Modern Art, Oxford. Photo: Ben Westoby.

“This is sort of my first real attempt at trying to make a person,” she says in the video, filmed in 2002. “It’s like a mystery, and you’re trying to figure out how to rein it in. I find printmaking—and also looking at prints—endlessly fascinating.”

That print is included in a current exhibition, “Kiki Smith: I Am a Wanderer,” at Modern Art Oxford, the first UK solo show for the artist in 20 years, alongside dozens of other examples of her varied work, including large-scale tapestries and sculptures.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Kiki Smith: I am a Wanderer” is on view at Modern Art Oxford through January 19, 2020 and “Kiki Smith” is on view at the Monnaie de Paris through February 9, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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