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ZOOM ON The creative process of Swoon

Can you remind us about who you are and your artistic practice? 

My name is Caledonia Curry, and when I started working out on the street back in 1999-2000, I took the name Swoon, because most of what I was doing was illegal and I needed a pseudonym. I have since spent my creative life asking the question of how art can become part of our daily lives. I have answered this question in dozens of ways, from street posters and billboards, to raft flotillas and decades long community rebuilding projects, all the way back to small gestures like making a set of emojis that lives in your phone. I believe in the creative force so much that I’m constantly exploring how we can live with it and how it can change our lives. 

What is your background, how did you start creating? 

I started painting when I was 10 years old. My childhood had been extremely unstable up till that point, but now suddenly there was a period of tranquility, and my mom took me to a painting class. It was kind of a Bob Ross style follow-along painting class and I was the only child in a room full of elderly retirees, but they adopted me, and I loved it! The positive feedback and care I got in that class, and the joy I saw on people’s faces when I took the paintings home somehow filled a very deep need that I had, coming from the unstable place I did, and from that moment on art became the central pillar of my life. 

In your daily work as an artist, what inspires you? What is the trigger for the creation of a work ? 

The whole world inspires me. Truly. I think the biggest joy of being an artist is that the world is so full of richness and fascination, and art making becomes a way to explore that more deeply. I have heard it said that true happiness is the result of paying attention – paying attention enough to see the tender moment exchanged between an exhausted mother on the bus and the stranger who helps her lift her stroller, or, noticing the way the light filters through the trees in the hours before sunset, or seeing the patterns of an ancient myth as it travels across time and through various cultures – the whole world is entirely full of moments and phenomena which will open up to you, revealing hidden beauties and truths whenever we find a way to give them the gift of attention. 

Can you explain how you build a work ? What are the different stages of creation ? 

The first stage often feels like a bubble rising up from the bottom of a lake. It’s somehow very slow, like an ancient, primordial thing rising up to be seen. It takes its time. I am aware of it only subconsciously at first, Then, pop! The bubble bursts the surface of the water and I say — ahh yes! That’s it! And now I can articulate the idea. But that is still only a beginning. If it’s a big idea, like the flotilla of rafts, or the film I am working on right now, I often have to talk about it for a couple of years before it really gets traction. This talking isn’t procrastination, and it doesn’t mean the idea won’t happen, it’s just me building the energy and community that I need to make the thing grow. Next I start – sketches, scale models, prints, drawings, I get to work. If it’s a big work, there are often collaborators, so there are meetings and planning and strategizing to do as well. My style as an artist, I need to make things like drawings and paintings which allow me to be alone and go deep within myself, and I also need to make work that allows me to collaborate and connect with others, it’s part of how I keep the balance of life. 

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