In the studio with Luisa Caldwell: MTA Commission, Fruit Stickers, & Studio Fire

Cloud Clusters Luisa Caldwell

Cloud Clusters, 2014. Candy wrappers and thread, ribbon and tripod, aluminum tubing, 96″ x 6″ x 6″.

Award-winning artist Luisa Caldwell, in group shows at Smack Mellon and LYNCH THAM when I visited her studio in January, is one of some fifty artists being evicted from the Bayside building in Greenpoint in April. See below for news about the studio fire! The huge edifice used to be an oil transfer station, but was bought by the City for a promised waterside parkland. Artists have had cheap studios here since 2001, but that ends in April, 2015 when the city takes over the building. Big oil tanks have berths in the outdoor space with high security fences. Caldwell shares her space with artist Rebecca Graves. Her half is about 250 square feet with fifteen-foot-high ceilings. She has invited me over to see her latest sculpture, which nearly touches the ceiling. She related, “This space has been so helpful in getting back into object-oriented sculpture.” The studio’s large windows face the East River and south for bright direct sunlight and fresh air.  In addition to a friend’s large red couch, the studio is filled with flat files, a work table on saw horses, ladders, shelves, and the boxes, candy wrappers, and fruit stickers that Luisa collects and turns into art.

Luisa Caldwell Sculpture

Luisa Caldwell’s studio.

Caldwell won awards in 2013 and 2014 from the American Institute of Architecture, The Victorian Society of New York, the New York Landmark Conservancy, and The Preservation League of New York as the artist working with the Lee Harris Pomeroy architects. Her role was designing fifteen art works for the Italianate station at East 180th Street that is the MTA stop for the southeast entrance to the Bronx zoo. The renovation of the landmark building was completed in 2011; Caldwell created collage compositions that are contemporary readings of Dutch and Italian still life traditions. These were fabricated into glass mosaic art works by Mayer of Munich, a famed mosaics manufacturer in Germany, and were sited throughout the station. See the MTA Website for more information.

Luisa Caldwell Sculpture

Station Villa, 2012. 3 of 15 artworks permanently installed at East 180th St Station, Bronx, NY.

Caldwell’s fascination with fruit stickers began about 15 years ago: “It did not start out as art. Fruit labels were the product of starting a family. Caleb was just born, and I started graphs (some shown at Mass MoCA) to keep track of how much fruit we were eating. This went on for months to the point where I noticed each one is like a little palette of color. Then I started to loop the stickers like strands of beads and then flowers, each sticker becoming a petal. I began to get fruit stickers from companies, coming on large rolls. The quantity of one type helped with pattern making and the ability to cover objects in their entirety, as in a series of small boxes. For a couple of years, I did [fruit sticker] paintings based on Dutch still life imagery and traditional flower painting such as this Henri Fantin-Latour lush rose paintings. Now fruit stickers are mostly bar codes.”

Luisa Caldwell Sculpture

The two biggest and tallest art works in Caldwell’s studio are Cloud Clusters and Box Seats. Cloud Clusters is eight sets of strings of different-colored candy wrappers from all over the world; it has been exhibited at Swarovski in Paris and at Camino Real Gallery in Boca Raton. This rainbow curtain faces a 12 ½-feet tall partially-painted tower constructed of boxes (varied sizes, brands). Caldwell commissions her son Caleb to make balsawood and toothpick chairs that add architectural reference to the tower. The top is aluminum-leafed. Box Seats is a double entendre that also refers to the theater. Caldwell noted, “I have been interested in the relationship between hoarding and making art. Boxes are classic hoarder material. Artists hoard but use the collected material to make sculptures.” The tall, angular shape of Box Seats also refers to cypress trees that line cemeteries in Italy. Caldwell’s art uses ephemeral material in metaphorical ways.

Luisa Caldwell Sculpture

Box Seats, 2015. Mixed media including cardboard boxes toothpick/balsawood chairs, aluminum leaf.

Post- Studio Visit: Added trauma! The artist reports:

On January 31, a 7-alarm fire raged directly across the street from my studio. It burned for 8 days, smoldering for 20. I had windows blown out by the fireboat hoses and artwork destroyed by the water, including an installation I had shown with No Longer Empty. Toxic smoke and no power for a week made it impossible to work there. The timing couldn’t have been stranger for the 50 some fine artists, designers, sound engineers that are facing an imminent vacate date of April 30! Along with applying for studio residencies offered by not-for-profits around the city, I am regularly checking The Listings Projects for studio space. Unfortunately, I look at paying three times what I am now for a comparable space. I don’t like to move and had a work/live loft situation in South Williamsburg for 20 years. My relationship status caused my move; in 5 years I have changed apartments twice and am now moving my studio a third time. But I can’t imagine life without a studio!

Despite the loss of her studio, Caldwell has a solo show at the Humanities Gallery at Long Island University in Spring 2016.

By Jan Garden Castro

See also: luisacaldwell.com and the MTA Website.

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27 responses

  1. So sorry about the loss of your studio and dealing with the collateral effects of the CitiStorage fire. Great to see a broad spectrum of your work, including that impressive commissioned mosaic at Station Villa in the Bronx!!! The whimsy and bright colors follow you. Beautiful!

  2. I have had the pleasure of visiting Luisa studio and I feel your article describes her work perfectly. I know that since seeing the produce sticker work I think of her art each time I peel a sticker off my apple! Photos were super and will act as a lasting memory of my visit. Thank you. Keep me posted on her shows please

  3. I love how Luisa Caldwell plays with colors and shapes…
    Her sculptures sometimes seems floating…
    Her sculptures sometimes seems growing…
    Luisa Caldwell put the happiness and the art in the same place.

  4. Very nice overview of Luisa’s beautiful creations! I would like to see her work in more public spaces!

  5. Have been watching and admiring the evolution of Luisa’s work for more than 20 years. I love her meticulousness and obsessiveness and her creative use of quotidian objects. Life as an artist in this city is tough enough without a fire in your studio. However, a new show confirms Luisa’s resilience. Can’t wait to see it.

  6. Love seeing Box Seats in its final form, and the colorful and textural juxtaposition of Cloud Clusters! I’m so impressed by your range and fresh, inventive way of utilizing ordinary objects. Happy, happy work!

  7. Great overview of very interesting work! Another visit down the road, in the new studio would be interesting to see.

  8. Congratulations! This is a really nice article with great images. I love Luisa’s work, her large-scale installations, her sticker paintings and the new box sculptures are wonderful.

  9. We at my studio building are having an Open Studio April 25, from noon to 6pm.
    1 North 12th St
    Brooklyn, NY 11249
    Please come out for this End of an Era event.
    Hope to see you!

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