Woman Breathing is one of Spero’s most reductive pieces, consisting solely of words printed along the undulating creases of the paper, mirroring the action of breathing that is described in the text. Using ahand-stamping technique, which she began to employ in the mid-1970s, the artist varied the pressure as she printed each individual letter. Explaining the importance of her formal process, she stated, “Ihave deliberately attempted to distance my art from the Western emphasis on the subjective portrayal of individuality by using a handprinting and collage technique utilizing zinc plates as an artist’s toolinstead of a brush or palette knife.” Created while working on her Notes in Time on Women series (1976–79), which depicts women as protagonists across history and cultures, Woman Breathing lyrically articulates the most basic function of existence.
A pioneering feminist artist and activist, Nancy Spero is known for her images of and about women—a subject that she has focused on since 1974. Interweaving mythological and historical figures, archetypes, and events with contemporary issues, Spero’s politically charged, visceral work explores acts of war, violence, torture, aggression, and personal andartistic isolation, while celebrating the transcending, indestructible nature of women. In 1966 she stopped painting on canvas, opting instead for the “freer, more temporal, ephemeral” material of paper—on which she would produce her most critically acclaimed work.