Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The first woman to gain wide recognition as a street artist, Swoon marries tendrils of family history with slivers of fairy tales into art.
The Brooklyn-based artist also known as Caledonia Curry stars in her first Santa Fe exhibition at Turner Carroll Gallery. The show marks the gallery’s 30th anniversary.
Curry took to the streets of New York while attending the Pratt Institute of Art in 1999. She wheat pasted her paper portraits on the sides of buildings to make art more accessible. She lifted the name Swoon from a friend’s dream to cover her illegal practice.
“That was a thing that got me around the world for many, many years,” she said.
She isn’t exaggerating: Her work took her to Berlin, Prague, Venice, Slovenia, Hong Kong, London, Bilbao, Cairo, Tokyo and Jerusalem.
From there she moved to collaborative projects.
Born in Connecticut and raised in Florida, Curry was a child of heroin users.
“There was a lot of instability; they were addicts,” she said. “And there was a lot of mental health stuff. I wanted to heal my own personal issues.”
Curry donated a house to help women out of crisis in Pennsylvania, gallery owner Tonya Turner Carroll said.
She took her own personal experience of crisis and healing into the community. She calls it a “radical compassion.”
Curry painted a friend surrounded by flowers in “Moni and the Sphynx” (2017) across three wooden doors.
“There’s a sense of lightning bolts coming from her fingers,” in the fabric folds, Curry said.
“Edline” (2017, silkscreen and acrylic gouache on handmade paper) shows a young girl holding a shadow puppet.
A mother cradles her child in “Sasu and Kasei” (2019). Another mother nurses her baby in “Dawn and Gemma Mandala” (2016, wood, copper and silkscreen.)
Her interest in mothers is no accident.
“My Mom was a difficult person,” Curry said, “and to see her being an incredible mother, I just felt this deep need to make a drawing of nurturing.”
Curry’s mother enrolled her daughter in art classes for retirees when she was 10 years old. The elderly painters became her spiritual and artistic family, teaching her how to paint. She moved to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn at 19 to study at Pratt.
Today Curry’s work centers on the transformative capacity of art as a catalyst for healing, weaving the fantastical with realism. She has built houses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti through her own Heliotrope Foundation. In 2007 she and a group of friends were invited to buy and restore an abandoned Pennsylvania church. She created a series of sculptural junk rafts that crashed the 2009 Venice Biennale.
The Santa Fe show includes a box truck diorama that folds into a sculptural house. It was part of a PBS project on people telling the stories of their lives called “The American Portrait.” Curry added a sound loop with portraits of people living in the house.
“The folks at PBS were like, ‘How can we get to know one another again?,’ ” Curry said. “We specifically focus on traumatic healing.”
Her 17-minute stop-motion animation film “Cicada” draws from metamorphosis.
“They go underground and they undergo this transformation,” Curry said.
The animation also draws from her own family history.
“If you can take something inside yourself and look at it, it’s much less scary,” she said. “There are some works that are very much a part of that transformation.”
Turner Carroll first learned about Curry from her collaboration with Judy Chicago.
“I was just blown away,” she said. “We became interested in her art making a difference in people’s lives because art is such a magical tool.”
Curry’s work hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, London’s Tate Modern and Brazil’s SÃ£o Paulo Museum of Art.