Caledonia Curry / Swoon

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About The Artist

Caledonia Curry, whose work appears under the name Swoon, is a Brooklyn-based artist and is widely known as the first woman to gain large-scale recognition in the male-dominated world of street art. Callie took to the streets of New York while attending the Pratt Institute of Art in 1999, pasting her paper portraits to the sides of buildings to make art and the city’s public space more accessible.

In a moment when contemporary art often holds a conflicted relationship to beauty, Callie’s work carries with it an earnestness, treating the beautiful as sublime even as she explores the darker sides of her subjects. Her work has become known for marrying the whimsical to the grounded, often weaving in slivers of fairy tales, scraps of myth, and a recurring motif of the sacred feminine. Tendrils of her own family history—and a legacy of her parents’ struggles with addiction and substance abuse—recur throughout her work.

While much of Callie’s art plays with the fantastical, there is also a strong element of realism. Her myriad social endeavors, including a long-term community revitalization project in Braddock, Pennsylvania, and her efforts to build earthquake-resistant homes in Haiti through Konbit Shelter. Her non-profit, the Heliotrope Foundation, was created to further support these ventures.

Today, Callie’s work can be found on the sides of buildings worldwide and has been given both permanent and transient homes in more classical institutions, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Tate Modern, and the São Paulo Museum of Art. Most recently, she has begun using film animation to explore the boundaries of visual storytelling and is currently developing a project supported by the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.

Beyond the Pail Artwork

Artist Statement

Caledonia Curry, known as Swoon, is a contemporary artist and filmmaker recognized worldwide for her pioneering vision of public artwork. Through intimate portraits, immersive installations, and multi-year community-based projects, she has spent over 20 years exploring the depths of human complexity by mobilizing her artwork to fundamentally re-envision the communities we live in toward a more just and equitable world. She is best known as one of the first women Street Artists to gain international recognition in a male-dominated field, pushing the conceptual limits of the genre and paving the way for a generation of women Street Artists. She is currently developing a full-length narrative movie that will bring together drawing, immersive installation, stop motion animation, and her collaborative work with storytelling traditions through film.

Creative Practice

I am continuously inspired by the wayang shadow puppet theater in Indonesia. What I was trying to do when I made the first cut-out was to create a big shadow puppet and have it walk the streets. I was also inspired by the people working on large street portraits as the time, wk, blek le rat, and Banksy were people whose work I looked up to, and I had been scratching around trying to create pieces that made sense when situated in the urban environment. I wanted to make something so in its element that it might seem like it had been born on that spot. In all my years of painting, I had been a portraitist, first and foremost. Human beings, their expressions, gestures, and concerns were the subjects I took to best, and so when I did the first life-sized cutout, it was a portrait of my grandfather; it just poured forth in the blink of an eye and all in one piece. I remember a feeling of surprise, it was like it had made itself, and I knew it was the beginning of something.