Fine Art

Grace Visits: Artist Mimi Smith

MimiSmithTwins_2005Mimi Smith, Twins, 21”x26”x5”, yarn, undershirts, stuffing, threads, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.

She also included an instruction kit to KNIT BABY 1968, with precise written directions on how to make your own knit baby and an added bonus written on the envelope how to knit your own “man.” The project, started in 1970, features an approximately 6-foot tall man with segments of his arms, legs and back completed, and an incomplete frontal torso replete with  sacks containing balls of yarn hanging from the knitting needles a viscerally powerful description of “imperfection.”

Smith did not create another knit baby until  1996, the year she discovered that she was going to become a grandmother. By then, scientific advances gave couples with infertility issues new options as demonstrated by her pieces: TEST TUBE BABY and TWINS, which features a boy and girl in blue and pink inscribed with the words “Artificial” and “Insemination” on their respective onesies. TRIPLETS features white, black and multicolored babies, their chests proclaiming The Declaration of Independence’s profound statement on human rights — “Life, Liberty and [the] Pursuit of Happiness.” In TERROR,  a dusty, gray knit baby is symbolic of the color of people covered in ash Smith observed on 9-11 fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers. The subject dons a gray dust mask with the word “terror” emblazoned on its chest. This artwork is one of the most grievously painful of the knit babies to behold, its beauty is undeniable as is the horror.

MimiSmith_GrandJuryHoodie2010Mimi Smith, Grand Jury Hoodie, 30”x30”x2”, sweatshirt, thread, hook, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

Recently Smith rediscovered clothes from many years ago, most of which she had sewn for herself and family members a wistful reminder of the past. By imprinting the garments with diaristic statements from contemporary life, time no longer stopped; instead the clock was  pulsating into the future. GRAND JURY HOODIE  came about after Smith served  on a Grand Jury for one month. She  heard similar responses to the D.A.’s questions that asked  for a description of the perpetrator. The answers invariably were: he wore a black/navy hoodie. Smith was particularly struck by the damning appellation, since she too donned a hoodie everyday in the studio. She proceeded to sew shut the hood on her old sweatshirt, a gesture that evokes the inability for many to speak in their own defense. Like a rubber stamp, Smith embroidered “guilty and indicted” up and down the garment — her process echoing the content of the finished object.

The visual elegance and allure of Mimi Smith’s work often belies the startling dichotomy between the object and the inscribed words. Her language is both comical and deadly serious, compelling the viewer to question any easy assumptions that they might have had concerning the issues that she tackles.

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  • Grace Graupe Pillard October 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    Tim – thanks so much for your thoughts. Mimi and I both appreciated it.

  • Tim Aanensen October 5, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    The hoodie piece is haunting and poignant. Well done. I love the intimate connection between your life and your work. So brave, and enveloping. All delivered with a beautiful touch, while potently conveying serious themes. Great article Grace. Wonderful work Mimi.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard October 2, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Phyllis – Thank you so much. I respect your writing and editing so I am particularly pleased you enjoyed the piece.

  • Phyllis Rosser October 2, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Wonderfully observed and written. You made her work powerful and poignant at the same time. I don’t know if younger women understand what feminist art is but Mimi’s work is a shining example.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard September 28, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Miriam – well stated and thank you so much.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard September 28, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Cassandra – thank you so much.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard September 28, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Mimi – it was a pleasure to write about your work. I have known your art for years and finally got the opportunity to give you a piece of “my mind.” 😀

  • Mimi Smith September 28, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks so much Grace! And thanks for the studio visit.

  • miriam brumer September 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Effectively explained – the way the ideas of Mimi Smith and their expression result in an often unusual, but very apt, use of her materials to comment about various aspects of living and how they affect her. The use of steel wool in “Coverings for an Environmental Catastrophe” is a striking image – ominous and aesthetically fascinating at the same time. The “Knit Babies” are poignant – and have a definite resonance today, when despite science’s increased ability to assist fertility, many women still have enormous difficulty getting pregnant.

    A very succinct, vividly described piece which makes Smith’s work extremely accessible to the reader. It makes us want to see and touch the work.

  • Cassandra Langer September 28, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Excellent piece. Nice to see such an intelligent explication of an artist whose work I have followed with interest for years.

  • Mimi Smith September 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you so much Grace! And it was great to have your studio visit.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard September 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Thank you Ann for bringing up the “feminine” skills in the making of work.

  • Ann Dermansky September 28, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Thanks to Grace Graupe-Pillard for this compelling article. Mimi Smith’s work exemplifies the slogan “The personal is political.” What’s especially moving is the use of “feminine” skills–knitting, sewing– in the making of hard-hitting, feminist art. Brava, Mimi Smith! Brava, Grace!