For some artists printmaking is an activity that is worthwhile but public and unpleasant. (Claes Oldenburg compared it to going to the dentist.) For others it becomes completely integrated into everyday life. In his later life, Picasso worked that way; so does Kiki Smith today.
The nine etchings of Escapades began life as demonstration plates for Smith’s printmaking class at NYU. Over the course of several months she continued to work on them, carrying them between the city and her house in upstate New York. Only at the end did she bring them to Harlan & Weaver to be finished and printed. When the first set was done, she began coloring them by hand. Thus the demeanor of these small flower portraits—intimate, tender, casual, cherished—is a revelation of how they grew. Each is a personal invention—none was drawn from life—made privately, and only subsequently directed to public view.
Smith has always had an unconventional understanding of public and private, exterior and interior. She had less difficulty presenting gallery goers with body parts and effluents in the 1980s than she did revealing what she felt to be her “girly” drawing hand in the 1990s. Flowers, with their publicly effeminate face, could be seen as embarrassingly lightweight, decorative, frivolous. Smith neither mocks the floral cliché nor embraces it. These nine blooms are in various stages of maturity—some flaunt a spectacular mane of petals, some are gone to seed. But this is no memento mori—in Smith’s rendering each stage is equally beloved, equally glorious. Senescence too can be sensuous.