Street Smarts

Swoon is taking her populist graffiti from derelict buildings to museum walls.

The street artist Swoon stands in her apartment-cum-studio, barefoot amid shavings from the sheets of linoleum she has been intricately carving. She lays the linoleum on the floor, inks it with a roller, covers it with paper, and then, as if stomping grapes, dances atop it, transferring the image onto large sheets of recycled paper.Swoon pastes her finished pieces-emotionally expressive faces atop bodies that morph into images of tenements, teeming streets, and toiling workmen-onto the walls of cities around the world, always positioned with their feet at street level. "I want the figures to have the same physical presence as a human being," she says. "I want you to be able to stand in front of it and relate to it." Street-art appreciators and pedestrians alike have done more than just relate to her work-the panoply of life-sized figures has made Swoon a legend in the streets of New York and as far afield as Berlin, London, and Mexico City.
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I don't buy that some absentee landlord neglecting the side of his factory is better than citizens participating in what happens to it.
Before graffiti crossed her mind, Swoon, 29, was studying fine arts at New York's Pratt Institute. But after being gripped by a "stifling feeling of being trapped," she left the atelier for the streets, where she's been "getting up" ever since. After years of toiling as a waitress by day, artist by night, praise by street-art aficionados led to critical acclaim: The Museum of Modern Art recently purchased six of her pieces. Even so, she still hits the streets each month so that you don't have to drop $20 at MoMA to see her art. "It remains important to me to make work that has an outlet and participates in other people's daily lives," she says. "I find that people respond to things differently when they know that it's free and temporary and when you're bringing something to people in unexpected places."

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