Monday, June 22, 2009
Kiki Smith ~ Banshee Pearls
Banshee Pearls (1991), goodness banshee? pearls? What is going on here? Take a look and you’ll see images of Kiki Smith, repeated throughout the 12 prints of this lithographic series. Okay then, it seems to be a fairly ambitious self-portrait. In each one we can see some aspect of this multi-faceted artist, the dark and the light sides of her persona.
Let’s start with the word Banshee. When I first saw one of these individual prints (the last one on the second row) at the Portland Art Museum, it was hanging in the hallway of the lower level of the Hoffman wing directly across from the stairwell at the bottom of the stairs. Banshee was the word my grandmother would use when she would refer to my voice that sounded like a deadly weapon, “if you’re going to scream, do it outside,” she'd say. And pearls, well my great Aunt Pearl was quite a character. The title related for me, but then I discovered that Banshee Pearls had a similar reference for Kiki Smith. Her father, Tony Smith, was ill during all of her childhood and he often told her she was like a banshee - in Irish mythology the female spirit who foretells a death in the family by wailing outside their home. And then, what about Pearls. Pearls can be thought of as organic gems from the sea. But Pearl is also the name of Kiki Smith's grandmother.
The title then does have meaning and reference to the twelve prints. Looking at them without reference to what's represented you can take in the richness of the handmade Japanese paper and look for the aluminum leaf additions to the prints themselves. Beyond that keep in mind that Smith has said that she tries to "-externalize what I'm afraid of." So Banshee Pearls is a bit morbid and gemlike -- the dark and the light sides of the artist, and the series ultimately affirms her many sided identity. One reviewer commented the prints with her image were a "Warholian repetition, interspersed with skulls, and masks that might be from Africa or designed by the Bread and Puppet Theater, the populist street-theater troupe she cites, along with artists like Eva Hesse and Nancy Spero, as an influence."
Smith herself says "Prints mimic what we are as humans: we are all the same and yet every one is different. I think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries." In this video snippet you'll hear Smith talk of how her work reflects the sum of her experiences and explore the realms of life and death. In addition to being able to hear her voice, you'll also see some other pieces of her work. She's always exploring new process for her work. In the case of Banshee Pearl she used "photographs, photocopies, plates from other prints, and drawings that she made directly onto plates to print multiple images of herself."