What an extraordinary evolution the career of Caledonia Curry (trade name ‘Swoon’) has seen over the last twenty years. In 1999, while attending the Pratt Institute of Art, Swoon first took her work to the streets, wheatpasting her block-printed paper portraits to little noticed and neglected corners of the city – and becoming one of the first internationally known female street artists in the process.
The simple aim was to bring art to the people; to make it more accessible, and give life to unloved public spaces. Over a long period of discovery by museums, art institutions, and collaborators, that goal has morphed into a powerful series of activist projects in aid of numerous causes: rehabilitation, climate emergency, political protest, and public celebration.
Street art as a genre – if you can call it that, so impulsive, unpredictable, and organic an art form it is – often weaponises itself (and often rightly) as cynical critique. Swoon’s does none of that. It is totally human at its core: reflecting and confronting themes of therapy and addiction, poverty, homelessness, and motherhood, all of which have touched her closely – sometimes painfully closely, as with her own mother’s self-destructive descent into substance abuse.
Most of all, Swoon’s art – almost all of it portraiture – is a reflection of people. Cities are the living, architectural embodiment of people; people working together, clashing together, jostling for literal and representative space, all the while struggling to find common ground and collective prosperity. So it is strange that, given the visual real estate taken up by billboards, LED adverts and superscreens suspended in city centres, so little of the imagery seen by everyday citizens mirrors the lives of people themselves.
Swoon’s is a quiet, contemplative corrective of that fact. Her portraits are supremely local; either of people she has met on trips abroad or of intimate personal friends, but they have a universal strength. On the sides of buildings, or installed hanging from gallery ceilings, they are a modern hagiography: everyday saints of the city.
The three girls of Sambhavna – curious and shy – Swoon found during her travels in India in 2009. Two years later, she spent a residency working directly with the Goldmark Atelier on editions for Black Rat Press and their 2012 ‘Printmaking Today’ exhibition. Like all of her work, the trio soon took on a life of their own elsewhere: you might find them peering from the walls of inner New Orleans, or Juarez and Oaxaca in Mexico, on a Hong Kong tram, or peeling from a Melbourne alleyway.
An original proof still stands watch in the Goldmark Atelier, like angels overseeing future projects. This is just one of their many lives; a process that begins on the linoblock but can go anywhere: cut like lace into paper, wheatpasted, or transferred at scale to giant, brown paper prints, or collaged in delicate assemblies such as this.