From now through July 22nd, Superchief Gallery NFT, the world’s first physical gallery space dedicated exclusively to NFT-based artwork, is hosting a solo exhibition for internationally renowned artist, Swoon.
Caledonia Curry, known professionally as Swoon, is widely considered the first women artist to break into the global street art scene.
Swoon’s solo exhibition is extremely significant to the NFT field at large. Female-identifying artists have been largely absent from the media discourse around cryptoart, despite their significant contributions to the crypto-verse and the field of digital art overall.
Entitled Cicada & Tymbal, the show will feature much of the same stop-motion imagery & animations from Swoon’s highly praised Cicada exhibition with Jeffrey Deitch, but this time, in NFT format.
This exhibition, which serves as Swoon’s debut solo outing with the gallery, takes the viewer on an immersive visual voyage into the artist’s personal history with works that intertwine images from memory and mythology to signify metamorphosis and healing.
The submergence and subsequent emergence of the cicada represent the personal transformation of the artist Swoon.
Swoon depicts vessels that contain the artist’s memories of childhood trauma stemming from a family environment marred by addiction and chaos.
“I think anytime you bring your humanity and personal experiences into your art, you create art that has a certain kind of truth to it. You create a situation where that truth can reach anyone, no matter how similar or dissimilar your experiences are. By being very specific, you gain a kind of depth, which makes it so that anybody can experience the work.”
Swoon credits New York and the creative process with saving her life. After a chaotic childhood in Florida, raised in an environment with parents in the throes of addiction, Swoon moved to New York to attend Pratt.
Her fascination with the city led her to break into the male-dominated world of street art.
When asked about any challenges she faced when emerging into this space, Swoon responded, “I didn’t find it to be very challenging. There was some anonymity at first, so nobody really knew who was doing what. It was almost like a blind audition, like when a concert pianist goes on an audition and the judges can’t see the gender of the person.”
“The street art community itself was really supportive. I actually find the top-of-the-art world to be way more sexist than street art. If you just look at the numbers of who is being collected by museums and whose work is at auction at different levels, you see a level of sexism that’s very intense. With street art, it’s treated more as a public open space and we were all doing it illegally. So it wasn’t about permission at all, it was just about doing things right.”
After confronting her trauma and learning more about the underlying issues that caused her parents to self-medicate, she chose to help others heal through her art and outreach and community-based projects.
In response to her choice to incorporate traumatic personal experiences into her work, Swoon answered, “For me it’s a choice between the emotional exhaustion of avoidance, and the emotional exhaustion of facing things. The emotional exhaustion of avoidance is perpetual and eternal, but the emotional exhaustion of facing things has a life cycle. So, I tend to choose the path that involves going directly towards things.”
Swoon works to help alleviate the suffering of other addicts, showing compassion and illuminating the tools to confront their trauma and begin the healing process.
Her imagery emanates the artist’s journey through the psychedelic therapy process in a style that recalls German expressionism.
“Every single generation, artists find a new tool and they figure out how to use it in their own way. It all goes back to the Renaissance with the invention of oil paint. New technologies change the way artists are able to do things. And that’s just what is happening here with NFT.”
After 20 years on the scene, the artist’s mythological creations evolve.
The artist known as Swoon sits at a sketch table in her Red Hook, Brooklyn studio, fiddling with a disembodied papier-mâché head.
“There’s nothing private,” she says, running a hand through her wild curls as I roam one of two rooms she rents in a labyrinthine artists-and-makers’ complex. Behind her hangs a large-scale mural depicting gritty but feminine myth-like scenes of motherhood. Smaller, ethereal cut-out portraits of women, many of them family and friends, are arranged in small clusters on the surrounding walls.
Because she hosted a party here recently, her studio is tidier than usual, she says, seemingly by way of apology.
The spaces Swoon creates are more often overflowing: Her recent show Cicada, at the Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York, features a tangle of wire and cloth spilling out of the wall into a lush, overgrown swamp-like scene. Paper flowers and insects swarm a mer-like character, who cracks her ribs open to reveal snakes uncoiling from her heart. The fabric jumble appears to be gobbling up another figure, its limbs disappearing like moss-choked flotsam.
The recent body of work she’s been developing, beginning with Cicada, marks a new direction for Swoon. Injecting her characters with movement, she has adopted into her practice an entirely new medium she’s spent the past two years teaching herself: stop-motion film. Meanwhile, her visual language has taken on a more explicitly sinister and introspective tone, a departure for an artist who made her name beautifying the outside world.
Swoon, born Caledonia Curry in New London, Connecticut (she spent most of her childhood in Daytona Beach, Florida), began pasting her dreamy ink-block portraits on city walls in the late 1990s. Alongside peers like Shepard Fairey, Banksy and her good friend JR, she became central to a youth movement fueling street art’s ascent. Swoon was one of the few women to gain recognition in that world. Her bold, feminine murals, with nods to Greek mythology, soon captivated major museums and galleries, which she filled with immersive multimedia installations.
Her 2014 exhibit Submerged Motherlands shaded viewers under a paper tree that reached the height of the Brooklyn Museum’s 72-foot-tall rotunda. It was the museum’s first solo show dedicated to a living street artist.
From early on, Swoon saw art as a medium for activism, creating “spaces of wonder” that bring people together. In New Orleans, together with the New Orleans Airlift collective, she created a musical village whose ramshackle treehouses double as functioning instruments. With her community of punk artists and DIY craftspeople she famously built three rafts out of garbage and sailed them across the Adriatic Sea and into the Venice Biennale, uninvited. The renegade crew invited onlookers to join them onboard.
“Swoon’s practice is based in generosity,” says Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum and a longtime champion of Swoon. “She wants to create dignified, humanistic, beautiful things about people, for people. She uplifts those who are less visible in our society, and she transforms the most banal and even devastated sites into places for real beauty.”
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Swoon launched a decade-long project building colorful, disaster-resistant homes in the remote village of Cormiers. Having just finished the rafts, Swoon says, “I was working with a lot of artists and builders that knew how to confront exceptionally difficult situations and problem solve in unusual ways. I had an instinct that we could make that skillset useful.”
In Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, which has one of the highest rates of opiate overdoses in the country, she leads an art therapy workshop for people in the throes of addiction. It’s a project she plans to grow in tandem with her outspoken efforts to combat the stigma surrounding addiction.
If there’s a thread that runs through Swoon’s diverse body of work, it’s “that idea that creativity can be a really powerful part of how you rebuild after disasters of any kind,” she says. “Social, physical, all different kinds.”
Swoon’s early life was colored by the chaos of her parents’ heroin addiction and struggles with mental illness. Forgiving them took years of therapy and meant reconciling memories of fear and trauma with memories of joy. “I literally thought my mom was going to kill me sometimes,” she says, describing a weeklong psychosis her mother experienced when Swoon was six. “And my mom would bake big zucchini bread and take me to art classes and be this wonderful person, and those two things are just true.”
That dual nature became a central refrain in Swoon’s work, the figure of “dark mother goddess” looming large in many of her installations. Partially autobiographical, her art was both an escape and a form of therapy.
“Almost whatever I’m doing, it’s going to be through art,” she says. “Am I thinking through a problem? It’s going to happen through art. Am I healing all these old wounds? It’s going to happen through art. Am I getting friends together? Art.”
In Cicada and in her growing body of stop-motion films, Swoon uses art to go inward, unearthing the trauma lodged in parts of her mind she hadn’t dared explore.
Behind the swamp-like installation that welcomes visitors to Cicada and an adjoining room filled with portraits of her friends is the show’s centerpiece: a small movie theater where a five-minute, semi-narrative reel brings Swoon’s characters to life.
This article appears in FLOOD 10. You can purchase the magazine here.
There have been times when art almost killed Caledonia Dance Curry, the multidisciplinary artist and activist known professionally as Swoon. In 2009, she and thirty friends were nearly run over by a barge while floating in ramshackle rafts from Slovenia to Venice. They had built them out of crates, plywood, and other junk rescued from construction sites and dumpsters across New York City. They sent the scraps in shipping crates to Europe, assembled them into twenty-foot-high floating islands, and set sail across the Adriatic Sea, uninvited, toward the Venice Biennale.
That project, titled Swimming Cities of Serenissima, was a comment on capitalist waste and excess, and it sparked a global conversation about recycling and radical self-reliance. It also cemented Curry’s already-legendary status as an artist.
“I never felt particularly successful as an environmental artist,” says Curry, perched on a chair in the middle of her warehouse studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not far from the Gowanus Canal, another body of water famed for its floating trash. Faces from her trademark life-size portraits peer out around us—on recycled wooden doors stacked against the walls, on sheets of brown paper hanging from the rafters, on a canvas placed on top of paint cans arranged on the floor. Each surface in the large industrial space has been employed as part of Curry’s artmaking process, but it isn’t a mess. Shelves housing containers of carving tools, string, glue, and other supplies are neatly organized with neon pink labels. As with the rafts, there’s a sense of order to the chaos.
photo by Tod Seelie
“We had a lot of aspirations on that raft trip, but I think we never felt that successful in terms of devising systems,” Curry admits. “In some ways it was great—we ended up producing very little waste, being in this self-created space. But I think that as an artist, you figure out where your strengths are.”
That project may not have gone exactly as Curry intended, but experimenting and pushing boundaries has always been her MO. Her career began twenty years ago with wheatpasted street art while she was a painting student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Put off by the thought of creating art that would only hang in wealthy people’s homes, Curry started drawing, printing, cutting, and pasting portraits onto walls and surfaces throughout New York. The images were often made from recycled newspaper and were intended to decay over time—but they made a mark.
Curry’s wheatpastings secured the artist her first eponymous solo exhibition, curated by Jeffrey Deitch in 2005. Following that exhibit, her work was added to the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern, and she became the first living street artist to have a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014.
Titled Submerged Motherlands, this exhibition started out as a reflection on climate change and rising sea levels, having been commissioned not long after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York. But after the death of her mother from cancer following a long battle with opioid addiction, Curry found herself exploring more personal, maternal themes.
“I would say that’s one of the times when art saved my life,” she says. “When my mom was dying, it was one of those things where the only thing I could do while she was sick was draw a portrait of her. It felt like this little flagpole of sanity that you hold onto in a strong wind, and you’re like, ‘If I can just make work while this is happening, I can keep rooted to the earth.’” The resulting exhibition was both grounding and groundbreaking—its centerpiece was a sixty-foot tree that utilized the full height of the rotunda, a first for the Brooklyn Museum.
Curry has a way of not doing things by halves, sometimes to her detriment. In 2010, following the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, she and a group of artists, builders, architects, and engineers flew to the country to undertake a project called Konbit Shelter. It saw them build three sustainable houses, one community center, and start English and after-school programs—but they pushed themselves to the brink in achieving those things. “We didn’t know how long it would take, so we ended up cancelling our plane tickets, and we stayed until our health started to fall apart,” Curry recalls. “That was when we were all like, ‘You know what? Even if the final plaster isn’t finished, we’re going to have to leave. The rainy season is taking its toll, we’re working too hard, we’re working too long hours, and we’re just going to have to come back in the winter.’ It was one of those wake-up moments of like, ‘You have to take care of yourself.’ You can’t help others in crisis if you’re driving yourself into the ground.”
“Even though I very much love to harness creativity in service of social change, I also really believe that creativity needs a place to just be born raw.”
Following the death of both of her parents, Curry started to unpack the emotional toll that growing up around opioid addiction had on her. “Personal sustainability feels really big for me right now,” she says. “I found that I was coming from a place of real chaos and woundedness, as somebody who grew up [around] addiction, and just people who struggled a lot. The thing about harboring deep and repressed unconscious wounds is that it makes you do crazy shit. When I look at people who are hoarding so much wealth that they could never spend it in fifty lifetimes, and yet they’re still clear-cutting forests to get that palm oil and build their fortune, I’m like, something’shappening with that person. They’re scared of death, they’re trying to impress their father; there’s some deep psychological processes. If they could just confront the fear of death, if they could just confront the fact that their father is dead and is never going to approve of them, they wouldn’t have to do psychotic things that are harming the planet.”
Acknowledging and dealing with her trauma has enabled Curry to be more sympathetic to herself. She’s begun to take an increasingly measured approach to her work, which has expanded from her original wheatpasting to include a range of practices like performance, architectural installations, and community-building projects around the world. “I realized recently that I was constantly adding projects and I was doing, like, ten at a time, and finally I got to a point where I was like, ‘I can’t do them all simultaneously, I need to alternate a little bit.’ So I set down a bunch of my core practices, which were block printing, wheatpasting, and installation-making, and I put them on hiatus. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to be able to teach myself new things.”
Curry’s work often has a purpose or practical application, whether it’s housing disaster victims, shedding light on climate change issues, or humanizing refugees. Throughout her career she has regularly blurred the line between art and activism—still, she views these things as fundamentally different. “Even though I very much love to harness creativity in service of social change, I also really believe that creativity needs a place to just be born raw,” Curry explains.
This renewed sense of self-sustainability and reckoning with her parents’ addictions inspired a recent project Curry undertook with Mural Arts Philadelphia. There, she hosted art therapy workshops at the Kensington Storefront, a community center in one of the areas that’s been hit hardest by the opioid crisis. The Storefront is a safe space where people can embrace creativity as a step toward healing—just as Curry has done herself. She acknowledges that these things may seem like small gestures, but for an issue that can feel insurmountable, it’s a step in the right direction.
Curry has addressed many overwhelming issues with her work, and is open about the challenges of achieving her lofty goals. She says the abandoned church she’s been trying to rebuild in Braddock, Pennsylvania as part of the Transformazium artist collective has been “a tough nut to crack.” With the collective, she was able to establish a separate company called Braddock Tiles, which “works with folks who are aging out of the Braddock Youth Program and teaches them soft skills so they can get jobs,” but they haven’t been able to transform the church into a fully functional community center just yet. “I discovered that me not living there has just not quite worked out,” she shrugs. “I’m actually looking to transition it. We’re talking to some folks locally, and my hope is to find somebody who’s doing work that’s about bringing up the community, who’s not just a gentrifying developer.”
She acknowledges that it’s important to know “when to call it, and be like, ‘Okay, this is bigger than me, I need help, I need to pass this on.’” Sometimes ending something can be as challenging as beginning it. When she made the decision a year ago to shift away from her primary art practices, she was scared—even though she realized that it was necessary for her personal growth. “Your processes become like a security blanket, and people know you for them, they like them, and they want you to keep doing them. So you feel like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen?’” she laughs nervously. “But you just have to do it!”
She continues, “I feel like, over and over again, my creativity has led me to places that made me feel a little scared. When we first made the rafts, I was like, ‘Girl, what are you doing?’ You could make your creative life so easy right now, but instead you’re digging in dumpsters and living with thirty of your friends on a fucking raft! Like, why are you doing this?!’ But there was a part of my brain that was like, ‘I’m not listening!’”
Curry now incorporates ten-day silent meditations into her annual self-care ritual, along with three-month trips to Panama to surf and work on art away from the bustling city. Having grown up in Florida, she says surfing was a way of life. “When I was a baby, we’d spend months at a time living in some random place by the sea. We’d go to the beach every day, so I think it’s just in my blood. The ocean is my happy place.”
These days, downtime can feel like a luxury many cannot afford—but Curry learned the hard way how crucial taking a break can be. “I burned out a couple of years ago, and even though it sounds really decadent, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to Panama to go surfing for three months!’ It’s a matter of self-care, and it’s a matter of carving out time for primary creativity.”
“When I started giving talks about my family and addressing trauma and doing all these things, I was like, ‘I’m more scared doing this than I am being on a raft that’s breaking down in front of a barge!’ You know? There are different ways of facing your fears at different stages of your life.”
This change in mindset is reflected in her work. As she’s allowed more time for herself, she’s put more of herself into her art, from Submerged Motherlands to her most recent exhibition, Every Portrait Is a Vessel, at Treason Gallery in Seattle, where Curry gave a talk on the very personal inspiration behind the work’s exploration of trauma.
Now in her early forties, Curry can’t believe that she’s done some of the things she has. “Ten years ago I drove a motorcycle across India, and now I would never do that!” she admits. “Maybe I’m becoming a wimp.” She’s still doing things that scare her—she’s just being more emotionally vulnerable, as opposed to physically endangering herself. “When I started giving talks about my family and addressing trauma and doing all these things, I was like, ‘I’m more scared doing this than I am being on a raft that’s breaking down in front of a barge!’ You know? There are different ways of facing your fears at different stages of your life.”
Since her earliest wheat-pastings, her work has cultivated curiosity, and twenty years later that light hasn’t dimmed. Even when she’s confronting the darkest, most harrowing subjects, Curry radiates hope. It makes sense that her first name, Caledonia, means “steadfast or hard-footed.” It originates from an ancient Scottish tribe that fought off the Romans, she says.
She points to a portrait on the wall of a beautiful woman laughing. “That’s a young woman who had left the Syrian Civil War under extreme duress, as a refugee. Her family made their way to Sweden, and I was asked by folks there to help. Sweden had taken on 6 percent of its population in immigrants, and they were like, ‘We need artists who will help us with this moment of welcoming this new community.’ So I linked up with a friend of mine and she helped Maram tell her story, and I made this portrait and put it up in the museum,” she says, referring to Skissernas Museum in Lund, Sweden.
“I was thinking, ‘This woman has been through tragedy that most of us will never even imagine.’ Society is at a place where it’s struggling, but when I look at the news and the images that we’re seeing of people like Maram, it’s 100 percent focused on distress. And the situation is distressing, but if you look at somebody and you’re only ever seeing them in distress, you’re seeing them in a one-dimensional way, so you can’t see the whole of their humanity. I was like, ‘You know what? Maram is in this beautiful town now, she’s starting a new life, let me show a different side of her! Let’s see that she’s actually a normal teenager and she just wants to be happy like everybody else.’ So it was a conscious choice for me to draw her in this really celebratory moment, to show that there’s more to her life than the suffering that she’s been through.”
If there’s a key to solving any of the issues Curry has come up against throughout her career, it’s empathy—whether we are looking inward or at someone else. “I think that people who are in that frame of mind will, in the long run, be making a more sustainable world,” she smiles. “I hope so, anyway!” FL
Every week, The Verge’s designers, photographers, and illustrators gather to share the work of artists who inspire us. Now we’re turning our Art Club into an interview series in which we catch up with the artists and designers we admire and find out what drives them.
In 2014 when I first moved to New York, I visited the Brooklyn Museum and saw the exhibit Submerged Motherlands. It was a dreamlike, larger-than-life experience created by the artist Swoon, who first gained notoriety in the early 2000s as a street artist. The intense detail and scale of every piece astounded me, and I’ve been following her work ever since.
Swoon, born Caledonia Curry, has been experimenting and challenging herself for almost 20 years. Since studying at Pratt Institute, she’s been creating massive installations for galleries as well as engaging in humanitarian efforts. Her work with the Konbit Shelter in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake helped create a sustainable community center and single-family houses in Cormier, Haiti.
Swoon invited me into her studio space in Brooklyn to talk about the link between street art and studio work, the messy process of drawing, and taking her artwork out to sea.
What was the transition from street artist to studio artist like?
I always had a studio practice, since I was a little kid. I studied classical painting, and even when I was doing work that was really made to live out in the street, most of the time making it was spent in my studio. So the real question was just around, “where does the art live?” At first I was like, “I don’t want to just make a square that goes over a couch.” And now, I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve threaded through so many layers of meaning and life into my work that I’m okay if one aspect of it is also a square over a couch. Like this is a portrait that’s part of a larger process, and if there’s a piece of it you can keep, that’s awesome.
I actually prefer that to only having things disappear. It’s nice to have a dual trajectory. So the studio process was always there, it was really more about the transition from street to gallery museum. At the time when I first got asked to do that, it was like, “Okay, does this really make sense? Is this right for me?” And then as you saw at the Brooklyn Museum, we had this 70-foot tree that was guy-wired into the building. Now you could see them up close, whereas they had just been on the water before. So what I found is that there are certain things that can happen in those protected spaces.
Do you plan to do any more street art?
Right now I’m taking a break because [with] every piece I was making, I was always thinking that it had to live out in the street. It was starting to dictate what I was making in a certain way and I was like, “You know what? If I’m going to really evolve creatively, I have to actually pause some of the things that are my known go-tos, so that I can surprise myself a little bit.” Like I have to stop doing certain things that are comfortable in order to get uncomfortable, which is that really creative space.
What piece are you most proud of?
The piece that I’m most proud of right now is this piece called the Medea. It did something that no work of art that I’ve ever made has ever done. I was able to start with a psychological state that I myself was in, which was kind of like a cognitive, dissociative, like fragmented place that was related to memory and childhood trauma and all kinds of things.
And then I was able to — through the creation of the piece to make physical the process of fragmentation of the mind — to braid it back together and to bring it back into cohesion. I know that sounds really abstract and complicated, but it’s one of those things where you’re like, “Oh fuck, this is what a work of art can do.” It can let you do these things which feel really abstract and complicated and a bit nebulous, but sort of concretizes them. There’s what your brain is doing and there’s what your hand is doing, and then bringing in stories, drawings, myths, and all different kinds of things. Somehow it allows a little bit of alchemy to happen.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration?
I love this nun named Pema Chödrön.She’s a Buddhist nun and she is really quite remarkable in that she’s able to study Buddhism, get into the depth of the whole Buddhist canon and then to translate it into completely ordinary terms. I feel like where I’m at as an artist right now is kind of drilling down into the human experience and drilling down into consciousness itself. Nobody does that better than the Buddhists. I’ve just binge-listened to almost everything, plus I read The Places That Scare You and I just love her. She got me meditating. I meditate daily, I do like 10-day retreats every year.
Can you take me through the process of creating one of your portraits?
It depends on the specific portrait. Sometimes I just catch something candidly. I don’t do any digital transfer, I just draw from the photograph. I found that if I don’t just draw it freehand, it won’t be wrong enough to feel like my drawing.
Like if I lay it out and just copy it, it’s a little too like everyone else who lays it out and copies it. But when I do my own drawing, there is something that I never quite get right and that becomes the style of why you recognize that that’s my piece. I just believe in the dedicated act of looking that happens when you just try and try again to draw someone’s face, and you erase it, and you try again, and you look deeper and you struggle with that. I just feel like that is why we are making drawings in the first place rather than taking a video or taking a photograph. Like that’s why drawers draw. That’s why I draw.
After you start that process, what’s the actual physical process to getting it blown up?
Well all the block prints, that’s their scale. So I roll out the linoleum and then I draw with charcoal on the linoleum, and then I solidify the drawing with ink so that I know exactly where I’m carving. And then once I start carving, I almost shut my brain and put on a Pema Chödrön book or whoever, and just get in the zone of carving while the decisions have been made. And then [after you] print it out, you have to kind of go back and wrestle the drawing back out of the print. Lately, I’ve started doing silkscreens from the drawings because I’m starting to stop some of my processes, so that I can learn new things like stop-motion animation.
So the installation like Submerged Motherlands, how long did that take you to put together?
So long. Yeah, that was at least six months. And, in fact, more because you saw there were two rafts in the project and those had been built years before. So the tree, the temple, a lot of those drawings had been coming into fruition for like a decade. It took six months to get it prefabricated and get it put up. But to really examine the labor that went into it, I would say it took like a decade.
Talking about the boats, what was it like making a piece of art that floats? Were you scared at all the first time you rode it?
Yeah. I mean it was really astonishing in this way where, we did it, we built it. But still the feeling of being out on it floating, you were like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And driving it? You’re like, “Oh my god, I am driving my art at sea.” Just a wild feeling. Also like stepping away, like getting on the little skiff and driving out and seeing it. The first time that happened I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me, that’s what we did?” Like even I had been doing it for months. Seeing it be alive on water was just totally mind blowing.
Jumping back to what you were saying about exploring techniques, what are you currently obsessed with technique-wise or style-wise?
Well, I’m obsessed with learning moving storytelling. I’m not working with narratives so much as I’m starting with an image and letting a narrative build out of the image. But what I’m finding is that as soon as you introduce time, everything is a story in a way. Like you’re a motion graphics person, you probably know that. That there’s this funny magic that happens where once you expand in time, it’s like a whole other ballgame.
Because I’ve worked in narrative drawings for so long, I’m finding that the transition is completely natural. And I feel like a little kid in this way, like, “Oh my god, this is so fun.” Playing with it and seeing where it goes is what I’m obsessed with right now.
I’m definitely always trying to learn some kind of new technique or something. That’s my favorite part of the job when you don’t know how to do something.
That’s exactly why I had to put down a bunch of my processes because I didn’t have enough time doing things I was confused about.
I definitely feel like when I’ve worked on something for so long, it’s so muscle memory. It’s like, why am I doing this?
Yeah, it can become great, but yeah, then there’s a point in which you have to put it down or change or come back to it when you’ve learned something else.
So, what’s next?
I’m going into seclusion for the summer to work on more stop-motion. I have a really hard time doing that in New York and so I’ve been living for part of the year in rural Panama and that’s where I do my film work. I have a feeling that I’m going to start around this experience that I had when my mom passed away. I had something that’s called a shared death experience which is quite strange and a bit mystical. When I learned that it wasn’t just me who had that experience, I was really stoked about that. I have long thought about how to express that experience and so I might take a crack at doing that in film.
Parole de collectionneur, Philippe Rosenpick livre ses impressions sur le travail de Swoon, à quelques jours de l’ouverture de sa 1ère exposition institutionnelle à Paris à Fluctuart, “Time Capsule” :
Le vrai nom de Swoon est un nom de roman, un nom de bande dessinée, un nom d’héroïne. Trois mots qui ne pouvaient que pousser cette jeune fille timide à faire quelque chose d’exceptionnel, à faire quelque chose d’unique : Caledonia Dance Curry ! Quand on prononce ces mots, il y a un truc, un sentiment de pas commun, pas dans le moule, un nom qui sent l’aventure et les rocheuses, un nom de chercheur d’or, de défricheur d’espaces. Un nom qui pousse à ne pas se satisfaire des routes toutes tracées, banalisées. Un nom qui sent le grand large, le voyage. Il faut se faire un destin à la hauteur de ce nom et c’est ce que fait Swoon : elle vogue sur le Mississippi ou à Venise sur des radeaux fabriqués à partir d’objets de récupération, prenant le contrepied de la société consumériste et créant une sorte de communauté HOBO joyeuse. Elle participe à la reconstruction de maisons « artistiques » pour venir en aide aux rescapés d’Haïti. Elle se promène et contemple les gens à l’infini, véhiculant un message de paix, de fraternité et de joie. Elle parle de l’essentiel. Ses yeux pétillent de l’or de ses rencontres.
Née en 1977 dans le Connecticut, Swoon affiche ses premiers collages transparents en 1999 dans les rues de Brooklyn, sous forme de silhouettes qui se fondent dans l’espace urbain, comme pour souligner que dans un espace qui anonymise de plus en plus l’homme, surgit toujours la vie qui jamais ne s’efface. Déjà ses premières silhouettes apportent un style unique. Elle suit des études artistiques au Pratt Institute dont elle sera diplômée en 2002 mais ses études lui paraissent trop conventionnelles, l’art officiel et mercantilisé étouffant, plus concerné à créer des produits d’investissement pour valoriser le quant à soi qu’à refléter la diversité, l’essentiel.
Swoon ne se destinait pas à l’art urbain mais sera inspirée par Banksy, Blek le Rat, les travaux de Gordon Matta Clark, le théâtre d’ombres indonésien et la gravure expressionniste allemande. Cette artiste de la douceur est en fait une artiste engagée car ses installations, ses travaux sur les murs des villes du monde entier, ses excursions fluviales sur le Mississipi et à Venise, sont le témoin d’un engagement humaniste très ancré.
Quand on contemple les œuvres de Swoon, une cascade de mots vient à l’esprit : fragilité, douceur, vulnérabilité, quiétude, paix, espoir, tendresse, dignité… amour. « Dans l’acte de regarder, il faut beaucoup d’amour, de dévouement, d’humilité et de patience » dit-elle. Swoon se veut en dehors des cercles et délivre un art humaniste qui donne de la joie, provoque un espoir contagieux. Le câlin d’Alixa et de Naïma est d’une grande douceur. Les regards de ses personnages, leur attitude les rend uniques car tout le monde est unique. Jamais de misérabilisme dans la condition de ses personnages mais de la tendresse, de l’espoir. Ses personnages anonymes apposés sur les murs sont uniques, essentiels, ce sont eux, ce sont nous. Ce n’est pas sans rappeler le Projet Imagine de Frédérique Bedos qui elle aussi met en lumière des anonymes extrarodinaires, les travaux photographiques de Jean Baptiste Huynh sur les visages. Un art qui met en lumière une certaine simplicité pour conquérir l’essentiel, nos cœurs. A l’opposé d’une société marchande qui valorise Koons des millions de dollars.
L’art de Swoon est totalement artisanal, « fait à la main et au cuter » pourrait-on presque dire ! Ses dessins sont gravés sur du linolénum puis gravés sur du Mylar ou papier recyclé avant d’être peints à l’acrylique. Sa technique est unique et identifiable au premier regard, ses œuvres souvent de grande envergure, souvent colorées. Swoon a été exposée dans de très grands musées, le Tate Modern de Londres, le MoMA, le Moca à Los Angeles et est désormais représentée dans des galeries partageant son ADN comme la LJ galerie à Paris qui la représente depuis longtemps, bien avant que sa notoriété s’envole.
L’artiste est mise à l’honneur lors de l’ouverture de Fluctuart à Paris le 27 mai prochain, nouveau temple flottant de l’art urbain.
Swoon signifie « pamoison, se pâmer », « défaillir, s’évanouir… de plaisir ». Alors Fluctuart ouvre le 27 mai… pour se pâmer devant les œuvres de Swoon.
Avocat associé chez Desfilis, organisateur du prix du Graffiti 2016/17, promoteur de la fresque dessinée par Crey 132 en l’honneur du Bleuet France sur la place des Invalides, membre de la commission d’appel de la Fédération Française de Rugby, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur
“Homecoming” – New Group Show by Swoon, Andrew Schoultz and Brendan Monroe @ Galerie LJ, Paris
Galerie LJ holds their next group show, Homecoming, from May 4th to June 15th, presenting leading artists such as Brendan Monroe, Andrew Schoultz, and Swoon.
Homecoming marks Brendan Monroe‘s comeback to Galerie LJ, after dedicating these past years to public and private wall painting commissions, and the development of ceramic series only exhibited in Los Angeles and Tokyo until now.
Homecoming also marks the return of Andrew Schoultz‘s latest series of paintings, 8 bright pieces of similar size on canvas recently exhibited in Hong Kong – Andrew’s very first show in Asia – that reflect the elements of symbolical vocabulary characteristic of the iconography developed by the artist in his work, such as the lion (inspired by the sculptures of the Alhambra), the fortress, the tree, the starry night, the snake; as well as his latest optical researches, which he groups together under the “Spectrum” series.
Finally, in conjunction with her solo show that will inaugurate Fluctuart, the new art center dedicated to urban art in downtown Paris (May 28 – September 22, 2019), Swoon will show in Homecoming a series of works on wood and metal.
An American mixed-media artist, Swoon is best known for her street art and socially committed projects. Guided by the belief that art is an immersive, provocative, and transformative experience for its participants, she produces life-size wheatpaste prints and paper cutouts of human figures which reflect her vision of the world.
The latest body of work by this humanitarian artist will soon be on view at Galerie LJ in her fourth solo show with the gallery. Simply titled New Works, the exhibition will feature a new body of works on mylar, wood, paper, as well as an interactive installation with her newest series composed of customized found jewel boxes offering tiny installations of artworks in 3 dimensions, such as a pop-up book.
The Practice of Swoon
Working in a wide-ranging practice that includes installation and performance, Swoon creates illustrative portraiture which is often politically motivated. Working with a range of discarded objects as her surface, she produces large-scale images printed on recycled newspaper and glues using wheatpaste, playing with positive and negative forms in a conceptual exploration of the urban environments.
Through her practice, she merges art and activism with the intent of improving the world. She dedicates her life to travel and humanitarian and educational projects.
In 2014, Swoon launched her foundation, Heliotrope to gather the 3 non-profit projects she had founded and still runs – Braddock Tiles, Konbit Shelter and Music Box. With her work, she contributed to the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Portraits Which Tell Stories
The art of Swoon is a mixture of a range of influences, from German Expressionist prints, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt to Alphonse Mucha, as well as Indonesian shadow puppets and the work of Gordon Matta-Clark.
Creating narrative portraits of the people she meets and the cities she visits, she tells a range of compelling stories to the public. These works can often be found as site-specific monumental installations in museums exhibitions.
Since the recent loss of her parents, Swoons focuses on more personal topics, such as identity, maternity, heredity, addiction, trauma, empathy, mysticism and spirituality, and catharsis of all these feelings through art.
Swoon Exhibition at Galerie LJ
Swoon’s portraits are truly powerful and compelling. They reflect a belief that our bodies and faces store all of our experiences and that a portrait can become a deep insight into those experiences.
The exhibition New Works will be on view at Galerie LJ in Paris from October 11th until November 24th, 2018.
Featured image: Swoon – Moni and the Sphynxes (detail), 2018. All images courtesy of Galerie LJ.