Humans and Animals Commune with Nature and the Cosmos in the Multidisciplinary Work of Kiki Smith

Humans and Animals Commune with Nature and the Cosmos in | RetinaComics

“Evening Star” (2023), aqueous archival inkjet, acrylic archival inkjet, white gold leaf on Hahnemüle rag paper, 60 × 43 inches. Edition 1 of 18, edition of 18 + 7 AP + 2 PP + 1 BAT. All images © the artist, courtesy of Pace Gallery, shared with permission

If you’ve traveled via the Long Island Rail Road service in Manhattan and traversed the MTA’s brand new Grand Central Madison station, you may have noticed a slice of nature indoors in a monumental, wall-spanning mosaic of a woodland deer. Acclaimed artist Kiki Smith completed the piece in 2022, and it’s one of the most recent works in which she honors the natural world and humanity’s role within it.

Smith began examining themes relating to the body in the 1980s, spurred by the death of her father, who was also an artist, and the loss of her sister to AIDS. Her early drawings and sculptures literally turned the figure inside out, often depicting organs, body parts, and bodily fluids, which related closely to the root concern in the AIDS epidemic as well as the visceral experience of the menstrual cycle.

In the 1990s, Smith began to portray the human figure as a whole, and her practice evolved into an interdisciplinary exploration of a variety of mediums, from photography to printmaking to textiles. Embodiment remained a continuous focus, and over time, the artist increasingly considered our connection to nature and the cosmos, often portraying women with symbolically powerful and enigmatic animal counterparts.

In works like “Dreaming with Birds” or “Lounging with Wolf,” her subjects appear both physically and metaphysically connected. In other pieces like “Evening Star” or “Wolf with Birds IV,” creatures commune with one another or soar through dreamy landscapes.

Smith’s works subtly imply a tension between the knowable and unknowable and the potency of consciousness. Her subjects often tap into historic narratives, classical mythology, and folk tales, vacillating between stark, abject aspects of human physicality and a sense of comfort and oneness with one’s surroundings. Celestial bodies and astronomical phenomena often appear in the form of comets or a swirling night sky dotted with geometric stars, reflecting a timeless fascination with the infinity of the universe and our timeless drive to understand it.

See more of Smith’s work at Pace Gallery.


A bronze sculpture of the silhouette of a female body with long tendrils or waves of water falling from her or lifting her.

“Dark Water” (2023), bronze, 72 × 65 × 28 inches

A bronze wall sculpture of two birds standing on a female figure.

“Dreaming with Birds” (2004), bronze, 47 3/4 x 73 1/2 x 2 inches. Cast 1 of 3, edition of 3 + 1 AP

A bronze sculpture of a comet.

“not yet titled (comet)” (2019) bronze, 93 × 40 × 2 3/4 inches. Edition 1 of 3, edition of 3 + 1 AP

An ink drawing of a woman seated with a wolf.

“Lounging with Wolf” (2005), ink and collage on Nepalese paper, 71 x 84 inches

A bronze wall sculpture of the silhouette of a wolf and a gilded bird.

“Wolf with Birds IV” (2010), bronze, 43 1/4 x 54 x 4 inches

A detail of a bronze sculpture of a bird with its wings spread.

Detail of “Rise” (2018), bronze, 11 3/4 × 23 × 8 inches overall. Edition 1 of 13, edition of 13

An overview of a slew of butterflies installed on a wall.

“Among the Flowers” (2023), bronze with gold and Japanese silver leaf, dimensions variable, 89 elements

Detail of a bronze sculpture of a donkey on a rocky outcrop.

Detail of “Respite” (2017), bronze,17 × 14 × 11 inches. Edition 1 of 3, edition of 3 + 1 AP

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