Sculptor, draftsman and printmaker Kiki Smith is in a league of her own. Her woven tapestries, large-scale drawings, and bronze and aluminum figures have been the focus of full-scale museum surveys at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is one of the most influential artists of her generation.
This school year, University of North Texas students have a rare opportunity to work alongside Smith in her role as the school’s Institute for the Advancement of the Arts 2013-2014 artist-in-residence. She is the fourth guest creative in this ongoing series, following performance artist Nick Cave, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director Guillermo Arriaga, and composer Jake Heggie.
“She’s just captivating, and she’s generous about sharing her inspiration and ideas.” — UNT Galleries director Tracee Robertson on artist Kiki Smith
Smith’s participation in the program came through her appearance as a speaker in the Nasher Lecture Series last spring.
“When Kiki was the Nasher lecturer, she also gave a lecture at UNT in our main art building on campus, which has a three-story atrium in the center,” says Tracee Robertson, the director of UNT Galleries. “There were people surrounding the atrium on every floor, and they were hanging on her every word.
“She’s just captivating, and she’s generous about sharing her inspiration and ideas.”
“For me, it’s like a vacation from my life,” says Smith of her participation in the program. “I like working with students because they come from a very different world than I do.
“I’m 60, and they’re on the forefront of modern life. I think it’s good for them to see what it is to be a practicing artist or one version of what it is to be a practicing artist.”
Flying back and forth from New York to conduct a series of lectures, Smith is spending the rest of her time at UNT creating two limited edition series of works in collaboration with the Print Research Institute of North Texas. P.R.I.N.T. Press director Lari Gibbons says the process of realizing Smith’s vision has been fulfilling for both the organization’s guest master printer, Catherine Chauvin, and the participating students.
“One of the things that impresses me about how she works is how flexible she is,” Gibbons says. “She’s so broadly responsive to materials and ideas, and it’s remarkable how she can take a small idea and enlarge on it and then change course if it’s not working.
“That rather nimble quality of being involved in your work but looking at it objectively is such a positive role model for students.”
The two series of prints — some of which may eventually be sold to fund future visiting artist programs — are still in progress. But Smith showcases tapestries she adapted from original drawings in “Kiki Smith: Transformations,” opening January 29 at UNT on the Square.
The artist says this “transformation” from one medium to another is a link between the older pieces in the exhibit and the current work she is crafting with the help of UNT’s artistic community.
“It’s a rich way of working that I got essentially from my father [sculptor Tony Smith] — how one can use the same form and it could change radically as it moved one medium to another,” Smith says. “What I like about printmaking is you make a mark and react to that, and each time you make a proof you change it.
“You get a sense of making spontaneous decision-making and reflection.”
“Kiki Smith: Transformations” runs through February 27 at UNT on the Square. The Contemporary Art Dealers Association of Dallas (CADD) bus tour, which explores the exhibition, is January 29 at 2 pm. There is also an artist talk January 29 at 7 pm at UNT on the Square. Official opening reception is January 30, 7-9 pm.