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Scenes from Swoon’s global experiences -- real and imagined

CONSIDERING the title of the new solo exhibit by the artist known as Swoon -- “Drown Your Boats” -- it’s not surprising there’s a canoe sitting in the center of the New Image Art Gallery in West Hollywood. On a wall above floats a life-sized pair of skeletal mermaids, white paper cutouts rendered in the artist’s lacy signature style. But turn just slightly, and the scene shifts: a Mexico City street sweeper emerges on the opposite wall. Behind him, a New York City takeout window bustles. Around the corner stand three Palestinian boys. “Every place I go layers up in my head,” Swoon says. “I want to create an environment where they can coexist and play together.”

Swoon -- a.k.a. Caledonia Curry, who grew up in a house on a dirt road outside Daytona Beach, Fla. -- seeks to construct mythical cityscapes that serve as palimpsests for the stories, characters and images she’s stored up while living in New York City and traveling the world.

To do that, Curry and a crew of three spent a week and a half assembling the floor-to-ceiling installation at New Image. The result is a tableau of etchings and prints executed via various techniques (linoleum relief, wood block and silk screen), then pasted atop a base of locally culled, found objects -- old newspapers, cast-off doors and much cardboard.

The layering of materials echoes Curry’s layering of ideas, a theme that runs through her cast of characters as well. Her visions are populated by people real and imagined, or at times both, such as when she restyled a woman spied upon a street corner as the witchy Baba Yaga of Russian folklore. But urban areas, with their ceaseless cultural churning, are not only an ideal staging ground for this sort of complexity; Curry sees them as important subjects in their own right.

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“This is the first time in history that more people live in cities than anywhere else,” she says. “They are the most massive thing we create. In human endeavors, they’re the masterpiece.”

While appropriately large-scale, installations are a relatively new medium for Curry, who first garnered notice by papering New York City with cutouts. Though her work is collected by institutions such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, she prefers nontraditional venues. “Museums are like textbooks of what’s been done,” she says. “They’re such a small part of the picture.”

Which is why that canoe really floats. Two years ago, Curry sailed down the Mississippi along with a flotilla of artists in makeshift rafts, docking routinely to perform variety shows and hold workshops. She’s since completed a second such jaunt, and later this year, a similar excursion is scheduled for the Hudson River. Classically trained as a painter, Curry traded the Old Masters for street art to better record and distill present-day realities. Like cities, rivers too fill that need. “I like to be outside,” she says, “creating a dialogue with people.”

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-- Mindy.Farabee@latimes.com

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SWOON: DROWN YOUR BOATS

WHERE: 7908 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

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WHEN: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays; ends April 19

PRICE: Free

INFO: (323) 654-2192, newimageartgallery.com


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