Memoirville

“Where Quirky Meets Menacing”—A few questions for Kim Smith

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

By Elizabeth Minkel

All SMITH community members are welcome—and encouraged—to upload images to accompany six-word memoirs and personal essays. An image can fill in the gaps that words leave behind, putting a finer point on a piece’s themes. But one particular Smith uses words and images to compliment each other in the fullest sense. San Francisco-based artist Kim Smith combines them seamlessly in her new book, Where Quirky Meets Menacing. It’s a collection of more than three dozen collages—short, SMITH-sized memoirs typed and carefully placed around delicate vintage prints. The resulting graphic memoirs are whimsical, charming, and evocative, and the juxtaposition of old images and new stories gives her work a sense of timelessness.

The collages will be on display from February 10th to March 14th at the Room for Painting Room for Paper gallery in San Francisco (49 Geary St., 2nd floor, 415-772-0977). There will be an opening and book signing on Thursday, February 12th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. You can get a preview of her work right now by clicking the images below the interview.

You write that you’re a visual artist first. Why use words at all?
I don’t talk much and sometimes I get frustrated because people don’t understand me, notice me, or remember me. In creating this series of collages and compiling them into a book, I’ve made a whole lot of information about me available and accessible to a whole lot of people. Now if someone wants to know something about me, I just say with a smile, “It’s in the book.” I still don’t have to talk, but the information is out there. Also, I love text. I like the visual aspect of letters and numbers, so I use them often in my work.

What’s the process like? All the text could certainly stand on its own. Did you think of stories and build collages around them, or vice versa?
This project evolved in an organic fashion. I used to tell the turkey story to explain my family. Playing around with my typewriter in my studio one day, I typed the story, cut the words apart, and started assembling them on an old book page. I did one, then two and three. At that point, the momentum picked up and it became obvious that I needed to do a book.

Stories started coming to mind. That part was really fun, because it made me look back on my life. Friends and family also contributed story ideas. Most of the collages were made around the stories. Though in a few cases, I had an image that I’d been savoring and worked specifically to find a story that would tie in with the image.

Writing the stories became its own art form. After reading a few, you realize there is a bit of a rhythm—the opening, the body, and the punch at the end. Because of my format, each word is very important. The stories are carefully edited because of the space limitations. I like to provide as much information as possible with only a few words.

Are other visual artists combining images and text in a similar way?
I’m sure there are many, but none come to mind right now. There are whole genres of “altered books” and “graphic novels” and even “graphic memoirs.” Many, many artists convey stories through their work. Though I’m not familiar with anyone who compiles their own stories into a body of work that is as easy to interpret as mine is.

Can you explain the title?
“Where Quirky Meets Menacing” was part of a headline in the New York Times and I’d been saving the text to use in a collage at some point. When I thought about the title for the book, it seemed a good fit. It’s catchy and I think it sums up big parts of my personality. Even though I’m quiet, I do have thoughts going through my brain. I’m a bit on the quirky side—you get that from reading the book. But I also have a mean little piece that I try to keep tucked away. That’s the part of me that stabbed my sister with a pencil and placed thumb tacks on the floor for her to step on.

And we always ask this one—what’s your six-word memoir?
My reticence is mistaken for irreverence.

Fattest BabyTulipsStore-Bought ClothesDessertsDon't Tell

Pencil LeadDog PoopSkiing in the AlpsLast Trip SouthTurkeys

VISIT Kim Smith’s website to see more of her work.

BUY a copy of Where Quirky Meets Menacing

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