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“When I draw a portrait my deepest desire is to take some of the love that I’m feeling, some of the bone-marrow deep respect for the humanity of the person I’m drawing, and to create a container for those emotions and states of human connection via the portrait. To transmit something about the person, something about their essence.”

-Caledonia Curry

You have been inspiringly open about your transformational journey of healing, encouraging people to go to their darkest place where they can innately heal. Have you seen a parallel transformation in your work throughout your healing process?

Where I see my personal healing reflected in my work is that I’ve become more honest. I’m less afraid to portray subject matter that feels a little disturbing, or to explore topics that most people don’t want to think about. At first, this was terrifying, but slowly the rewards of digging down into true honesty have begun to far outweighed the fear in myself and the discomfort in others.

Your recent solo exhibition “Every Portrait is a Vessel” at Treason Gallery is your first in the Pacific Northwest. You chose to show a mixture of both old and new works. Can you tell me more about the selection process and your creative vision for this exhibition?

Since this was my first ever show in the Pacific Northwest, I wanted to give a sense of the breadth of my work. I chose work that spanned a few different eras, as well as choosing a mix of styles and mediums so that people could get a sense of my creative exploration. I like to think if it as giving people a chance to watch you think, via seeing various decisions and processes unfold within the work. And because the visual work is just one aspect of my creative life, I also gave an artist’s talk where I shared some of the history of my community-based work, from the raft projects, to the rebuilding work in Haiti, and my most recent work around the opiate crisis and the connection between addiction and trauma. 

The core theme of this show “Every Portrait is a Vessel” refers to my hope (however irrational it may sound), that it is actually possible to transmute energies, emotions, and states of mind directly into form. When I draw a portrait my deepest desire is to take some of the love that I’m feeling, some of the bone-marrow deep respect for the humanity of the person I’m drawing, and to create a container for those emotions and states of human connection via the portrait. To transmit something about the person, something about their essence. 

Most of all, there is a way of seeing people; it’s a state of mind I don’t always have access to, but when I do, I get a sense that this is a big part of my calling. How can I explain it? It feels like a kind of looking which peers straight through to the center of someone. Like an ability to focus on what is inalienably whole and perfect about any human being – and I really mean any human being – no matter who they are or what they’ve done. There are times when I can see people this way, when I have an instinctive sense that every person was born perfect and that inside them, as long as they are alive and on this earth, they are lit from within by an irreducible force of love which is our very life force. And if I can see it I can draw it, and if I can draw it, I can magnify and multiply the awareness of that kind of love out into the world. 

You are incredibly diverse in your creative process. Do specific art processes satisfy you more than others, or does each medium relate emotionally to the specific pieces you create?

Specific processes feel more satisfying than others at different times. There are times when I have been obsessed by building things, and by learning about architecture and thinking about how different building technologies can be used to help alleviate human suffering. Other times my mind will just get seized by the need to tell stories and figure out how to navigate the medium of time – like now when I find myself really moved to learn stop-motion animation and film making. Drawing portraiture feels like it may always be at the center of my creative world, but who knows, my muse can be unpredictable sometimes, and I never feel like I’m fully in charge of what’s gonna happen next. 

Your new birthing scene print is beautiful and the story about how a collector purchased prints as a pay-it-forward gesture makes it even more meaningful. Can you tell me more about this inspiring and what I believe to be rare gesture?

The birth print is something I drew because I think the kinds of images that we live with matter. I think living with images of birth in our lives indicates a respect for life, a respect for women, and by extension a respect for all of humanity and our place within nature. 

The really wonderful gesture made by a dear collector of mine started when I learned that in the history of western art and art collecting there is a strong taboo against images of pregnancy. If you look, there are very few images of pregnancy and ever fewer of birth that are displayed prominently in museums, or as part of big public collections. I’ve even heard stories of people not being able to sell their Picasso because it depicted a pregnant woman. On the other hand, works depicting violence are incredibly popular and ever-present. 

I decided to release an accessible print so that people who wanted to live with images of birth could. Predictably, very few people bought the print. I made a post about this and there were a number of folks saying they would love to own one but didn’t have a budget to buy art. One of my collectors, who chose to remain anonymous, is one of those people that just get it. He gets my work, he understands the easy pieces, as well as the tougher subject matter, and he just felt like he wanted to give me and this work a push, and to give a surprise to a few lucky folks in my thread. So he reached out and told me his plan to buy a handful of prints and gift them to some of the commenters. And it was wonderful! Something about his gesture really reminded folks that there are a lot of good people in the world, and that was probably my favorite part about it. 

You channel profound energy and emotion into your work. Do you typically feel the need to take time away from the creation process in between larger projects or does creativity itself act as a meditative conduit in the transition process?

Aww thanks! I guess it depends on what kind of work it is. Working alone on drawing and on the more interior focused work like the stop-motion films, that kind of work is meditative and deeply recharging. When it gets exhausting is when the work meets the outside world. So, everything from big immersive installations, to the raft projects, to any of my community-based work. Anything that involves long hours while incorporating the needs and expectations of groups of people means that I’m gonna have to hole up and take a break when I’m done. But even though it can be exhausting, the community-based work gives meaning to and makes sense of the more interior work, so I would never trade one for another.


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