Kiki Smith: Behold, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

3.00

 

A woman exhales a cloud of faint colour. Her expression is caught in profile, one feeble hand propping up her chin. She stares into the cloud as though she could divine her future there. While the colours are chimeric – pink, and yellow, and lilac – her face is impassive, even hard. She seems almost bored by her own magical power.

This is a lithograph called Breath (2012) by New York based artist Kiki Smith, an established figure since the 1980s, when she drew on Gray’s Anatomy to create sculptures of human organs charged with both feminist and occult significance. Smith, 58, includes traditional processes deemed “women’s work,” such as weaving and craft. Cosmologies of animal and plant life are mixed with explorations of the female form. Mystical oneness is evoked yet these works sometimes shade into the decorative.

According to Marina Warner, best known for her analyses of myth and fairy-tale, Smith’s work looks “unblinkingly at the life in dead things”. Warner reminds us that “breath” also means “anima”. A fascination with the inner primal goddess is one legacy of the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s, and must be lauded with caution. In the sphere of stars, moons, and metamorphoses, there is much scope for conforming to age-old perceptions of women as abstract essences rather than real human beings.

However, Smith’s work seems driven by authenticity. There is an unguarded, open, and light quality to many of these pieces. Guide (2012) is a jacquard tapestry that shows two eagles framed in flight against a crackling, pale sky. It is subtle and quite beautiful.

Bough (2012) is an impressive sprawling bronze sculpture, painted turquoise and hanging on the wall, so that the branches are brought into relief. The turquoise girl perched at the centre is chameleon-like: from far away, she could be a bird. The Blue Moon (2011) sculptures are perhaps less convincing; they look more akin to zodiac-inflected interior design.

The most arresting works in this exhibition are the smallest: Seven Seas (2012) is a series of aquatint etchings that show stormy black seascapes. A rolling, cloudy sky is besieged by finger-prints.

A mysterious, multi-coloured rock moves progressively out of sight until, in the final image, it almost disappears entirely. The clouds are anthropomorphic, inviting interpretation: are they rabbits? Or half-human deities?

There is a sense that darkness is taking over but just beyond is the promise of light.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before