by Morgan Madison
Liv Rainey-Smith is a Portland, OR based printmaker. She was first introduced to the medium while earning her BFA from Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. I meet Liv Rainey-Smith at Atelier Meridian, the print making studio and arts community in North Portland where she creates her wonderfully imaginative woodcut prints. It is quickly striking how articulate and well considered she is in our conversation. It shows a thoughtfulness that comes from a life spent immersed in books and stories. Indeed, Liv’s interest in these forms of communication and what they can reveal about humanity comes from a very personal place.
As a child Liv faced serious challenges. She was born with only one ear and a serious heart defect. At the age of 4 she went through open heart surgery and was in and out of hospitals for her ear up until her early teens. Liv says; “These experiences helped create a love of reading and creating as well as a fascination with anatomy and mythology.” These influences are readily apparent in her prints, which are populated with distinctive patterns and fantastical creatures rendered in a crisp graphic style.
Capybara is a wonderful example. Its half rodent/half fish subject sits in regal repose, like some mythological creature. Liv explains; “The story behind the capybara is that it is the world’s largest rodent, and because it is semi-aquatic it is supposedly considered a fish for purposes of consumption on Fridays and during Lent. So the print is my ‘early explorer’ illustration of the wondrous rodent-fish of the new world.” The story and image together reveal enough to set the stage for the viewer’s imagination to take over. The same can be said for a piece like Egress, whose spirit-like subject swirls in the ether while breathing a plume of fire. It is a part of her ongoing series Iunges, which depicts otherworldly messengers, angels of communication. They seem like visitors from some vivid dream. In fact, Liv cites her own dreams as another source of inspiration for her work.
This combination of personal experiences with the symbolism of myths and storytelling gives Liv’s work an enigmatic and compelling character. It inspires a search for meaning that mirrors beautifully the process by which she creates it. In woodcut printing, ink is applied to paper by a block of wood that has been carved to create a design in relief. Liv begins most of her pieces with drawings. However, as she chooses a block and begins to carve Liv pays careful attention to the unique character of each piece of wood. Its personality and quirks help guide her decisions, and as she reveals the story within the wood block it helps shape the story she shares with us.
To see her process in person and to hear Liv speak about her work and inspiration be sure to make her studio (#62) a stop on your 2010 tour of Portland Open Studios.
Liv’s work will be featured with another Portland Open Studios artist in; Liminal: Paintings by Chris Haberman and Woodcut Prints by Liv Rainey-Smith at Pearl Gallery and Framing, October 7th – November 2nd, with an artists’ reception on opening night.
Her work can also be seen at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, October 1-3 and as part of the Portland Tarot Project show at Splendorporium, November 15 – January 2.
Visit www.livraineysmith.com to see her work online.