For the artist Camilla Engström art is freedom. “Freedom to make what my heart desires. Freedom to follow my passion and purpose.” This is why she mixes joy and humour in his spiritual, dirty mindset, colorful and minimal paintings. Husa, the funny Mother Earth-like personification that rejects the typical role of the fashion model, and Clit Queen, used to encourage people to speak about how they want to be pleasured, are the characters that have made the Los Angeles-based, Swedish-Chinese artist known.
Camilla, you had received formal training when you started your career in the fashion industry, but when you realised that this world wasn’t made for you, you decided to turn to art. What does art mean to you?
Based on my own personal experience, art means freedom to me. Freedom to make what my heart desires. Freedom to follow my passion and purpose. If fashion were my passion maybe I would have felt something similar.
How do you deal with a creative rut? Do you decide the subject matter first or do you pick the materials and then build the idea and the artwork around it?
When I feel uninspired, I take a break from painting. There is not point in pushing what’s not there. So I take a break until I feel ready to work again. My ideas come to me usually during my morning meditations. I write down what I’ve seen in my head and try to paint a version of it. I always use the same materials so it’s not a lot to prep before.
Your work is so fascinating because of the presence of spiritual ideas and the love and the confidence you spread with a little bit of a dirty mindset. How would you describe your artwork in a few words?
I do try to mix in joy and humour into my work. To further describe it: I paint imaginary landscapes. Right now, I like to paint volcanos, hills, bright suns and blue skies. I also sometimes paint a Mother Earth-like figure named Husa.
I actually love Husa, the funny female character that reflects rejecting what most models have to go through in the fashion industry, as she can change one’s perception of their own body. Could we say that this naked pink lady is your alter ego?
Yeah, I think she is. I feel less connected to her now but she’s still part of my story.
Often, we can see this lady surrounded by nature, animals or bowls of fruit. What else does this femme figure with a curvy belly symbolise?
She/they are very content, happy, goddess, Mother Earth-like. We need to respect Husa or she will erupt like a volcano.
Did you imagine that one day this happy illustration would build a loyal following of fans that share the same frustration with the fashion world?
I didn’t at all. But it’s very interesting to connect with people who share a similar story. I left the fashion world so long ago now but I’m happy that my story continues to support people in their decision to leave.
The Clit Queen is another of your cartoon characters that transform feminine ideals and is used to criticise the bad sex you had in the past. Where do you want to go with this drawing? Is your intention to empower female sexuality or does it go further?
(Laughs) I made the Clit Queen so long ago I barely remember! I think I did like two or three drawings with her but people seemed to think it was really funny. I think I just wanted to remind people to speak up about how they want to be pleasured because the world is so damaged by the porn industry and men thinking they know and need to 'teach' women about their sexuality. It’s upsetting really. No one should use porn as their only sexual education.
This thread of feminism and female empowerment is found throughout the majority of your artwork and it is based on your own experiences, but what else inspires Camila to create?
Nature! We need to save our planet and I want to encourage people to do so by really helping people appreciate, connect and understand how vulnerable we are and how healing it is to spend time in nature.
As we have seen, you talk about femininity through your work, but is there something you wish to discuss about masculinity too?
It’s all about balance, I think. I don’t see this as purely gender-based, I see it as energies that we need to balance out for a healthy society. We need a healthy balance of both feminine and masculine energies to thrive but our society has been dominated by a toxic masculine force. It needs to be rebalanced. Giving space for femininity in all of us, no matter what gender, will make the world a happier place I believe.
Are there any colours that you associate more exclusively with a feeling or an emotion?
I like green, yellow, blue and orange. There really isn't one particular feeling I associate them with but they make me happy!
You have a bittersweet relationship with social media. Before it used to make you unhappy, you compared your body and careers with others, you had insecurities and jealousy about the success of famous people, but now it is the opposite. You mainly use Instagram to convey positivity and humour through dance and paintings. Are you for or against social media? Would we be happier without it?
I’m personally mostly for it because it helps me connect directly with my audience but, like with everything else, we need to use it in moderation. And, if it doesn’t make you feel good, then go off it. I try to take breaks from it as often as I can. What needs my attention will find me anyway. Social media really isn’t as important as we make it up to be.
What would you like to see more of in the contemporary art world?
I would like to see an even more diverse group of artists and art collectors. I also just miss going to exhibitions so, so much!
Lastly, what are you moving onto next? Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, I have a solo show in Stockholm in September with Carl Kostyál and a solo exhibition in Hong Kong with Over The Influence.