Maggie Smith debuts ‘We the People’ series at Pine Moon Fine Art

Screenprinting project by local printmaker emphasizes common humanity

Maggie Smith's "Establish Justice," in her "We the People" screen print series.
Maggie Smith

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs printmaker Maggie Smith is known for her monotypes of whimsical Colorado wildlife and nostalgic storybook landscapes, but ahead of her most recent project, something else entirely was weighing on her thoughts. 

“I’ve been concerned with how immigrants and people who want to come to this country are being treated,” Smith said. “There’s a racism involved. They’re called out as the ‘other,’ they’re considered not like us, and therefore, we don’t want them.”

Smith’s worry led her to extend pieces of those concepts to include herself — and every other human on the continent.

“We’re all immigrants,” she said. “We’ve all come here from someplace else. 

“I kept thinking, ‘If you’re involved in the arts, how can you use the arts to promote how you wish the world was working, or to point out issues around you that you want the world to understand?’” Smith said.

In translating her ideas into the physical, Smith designed prints of several figures in different shapes and sizes and rolled them in different solid colors ink. She used a technique she calls “gorilla screen printing.” Instead of screen printing in an orderly process with a hinged, predictable system, she kept her screen untethered, free to move anywhere on the paper she wants. 

“This has got more of a loose movement feel to it,” she said. 

If you go

What: Maggie Smith’s “We the People” series at August First Friday Art Walk
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2
Where: Pine Moon Fine Art, 117 Ninth St.

All figures stand starkly against a background of abstract paint, textured in drips and sprays and brushmarks. The schemes of the figures’ solid colors against each other range from deep gem tones to light and vibrant. 

The lack of distinction between foreground and background leads the viewer to figure out for themselves: are those overlapping figures touching at the elbow or is that just the perspective? Is this one part of the other or just in front of it? Is that one stepping on the other two — or are the other two supporting the first? Are they holding hands or is one dragging the other?

Some seem to exist out of the negative space around them. Some are heading one direction; others, the opposite. 

Maggie Smith’s “Provide for the Common Defense,” in her “We the People” screen print series.
Maggie Smith

Some are energetic, some are slump-shouldered, some seem to be, maybe, jubilant or cautious or jaunty or startled or puzzled or dancing or contemplative. All can be whatever the viewer projects onto them.

Smith estimates she created close to 40 pieces of the figures. It was her first major silkscreen project. 

“After I’d done a few screen prints of these figures, I was thinking of the Constitution,” Smith said.

When she read through the preamble, she thought, “This feels like something that applies to everyone who’s here, whether you’re a citizen or not.”

Each of the 14 pieces Smith chose for the show is titled with a phrase from the preamble. The first is “We Are All Immigrants.” 

The following titles include: “We the People,” “Of the United States,” “In Order to Form,” “A More Perfect Union,” “Establish Justice,” “Ensure Domestic Tranquility,” “Provide for the Common Defense,” “Protect the General Welfare,” “And Secure the Blessings of Liberty,” “To Ourselves,” “And Our Posterity,” “Do Ordain and Establish,” “This Constitution” and “For the United States of America.” 

“Most of the time, our constitution uses the word ‘people,’ not ‘citizen,’” Smith said. “We’re all different colors, and we’re all different shapes, but we’re all here, and we need to figure out how to work together to make this country work.”

Smith’s “We the People” series will be featured at Pine Moon Fine Art, at 117 Ninth St., through the month of August.

“I don’t want to tell people what to think or how to think,” Smith said. “I want to encourage people to consider these ideas.”

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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