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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
See also: luisacaldwell.com and the MTA Website.