Kiki Smith. Photo: Jim Goldberg.
STROLLING WITH THE ARTIST Kiki Smith down the not-entirely-gentrified East Village block where she lives and works, in a townhouse with a cherry-red door, can take a remarkably long time. It's not that she isn't nimble — at 64, she has energy to match her famously prodigious output, able to navigate in a billowing black cotton shift around the occasional glob of garbage or a slab of broken pavement. It's that Smith courts distraction. Her 40-year career as an icon of figurative art has made her one of the most enduring creators of post-feminist imagery in mediums from sculpture and drawing to tapestry and printmaking, her very range demonstrating her constant restlessness. Some of her friends flatly refuse to walk with her anymore, she admits, in her halting, dreamy voice, shaking back her flint-gray hair. She completely understands. Who has the time?
A long tendril of ivy in shades of persimmon and ocher has detached itself from the building across the street; it catches her eye as it swings in the breeze. Next, she stops to ponder a blue jay, chattering madly as it flits between the flowering cherry and pear trees that line the block. And what about that light carpet of moss, like a chartreuse 5 o'clock shadow, making patterns on the steps of the brownstones? Are you aware that the spikes at the bottom of the wrought-iron banisters were invented a century ago to scrape the mud from your boots before coming to call?