Camilla Engstrom, Artist
If you don't recognize Camilla Engstrom, chances are you recognize her work. Camilla's signature figure, an adorably rotund little lady, is quickly taking the internet by storm in a multitude of forms. As a painter, illustrator, textile artist and model, Camilla really knows how to hack it in the ever-competitive world of art and fashion. How does she do it? By blending the two seamlessly. Based in Brooklyn, this multi-disciplinarian maven is a shining example of building a personal brand. Lisa Says Gah is proud to host a collaboration with Camilla in honor of Women's History Month along with an in-depth look at Camilla herself. Read on to discover what she thinks of armpit hair, tapping into uncomfortable areas through art, and the importance of being honest with yourself. Enjoy!
LSG: Hi, Camilla! Tell us about your personal journey. How did you get to where we find you now?
I grew up in a small town called Orebro. My parents got divorced when I was 6, and my mum decided to move to Stockholm and open a restaurant. The rest of us followed her shortly after that. I feel a deeper connection to Orebro than I do to Stockholm. I spent more time in Stockholm, but all my happy memories are connected to those early years in Orebro. My family consists of a bunch of hard workers. My grandfather was the creative one. He was the one who saw that I had the potential to become an artist. He always encouraged me to draw and to share my thoughts. Now, I've been in New York for the past five years. My educational background is short. I came here to study fashion but dropped out. My whole life I was determined to become a creative director at some major fashion house. It was very heartbreaking once I realized I hadn't been honest with myself. Working in fashion was a pain. I never fit in. It was a blessing, though. I’m so much happier doing what I do now.
LSG: Tell us about your studio space. How essential is it for you to have a workspace outside your home?
I work from an artist owned basement studio in Williamsburg. Having a workspace outside my home is essential to me. I'm a painter, and it gets messy. I also prefer to take meetings in my studio. When I’m home, I don’t want to see things that remind me of work.
LSG: We love the signature female figure that appears in most of your work. Does she have a name? What does she represent to you?
Husa is my alter ego. She does things for me. She represents the weirdo in me.
LSG: Tell us about your points of reference while creating the custom LSG Husa design?
I don't think so much when I draw, but I wanted Husa to make a feminist statement in the design. I think I succeeded by incorporating both the feminist logo and armpit hair.
LSG: What is your process like when designing with another brand?
It depends on how much freedom I'm getting regarding design. Some brands want more input than others. I think a lot about their customer and aesthetic and then I go from there. Lisa Says Gah was super easy to work with! I love that I could just draw whatever I felt excited about without having to think too much!
LSG: What are your thoughts on armpit hair and the growth of it as feminist symbolism?
I've been embarrassed about my armpit/body hair since I was a teenager. It's ridiculous. Why should I be ashamed and hide something that nature gave me? My mother always told me to leave it alone and be proud of my armpit hair. I never listened. I finally feel like I'm at a point where I don't care if I forgot to shave my armpits or not. I like armpit hair on a woman. It's cute! But if she wants to shave that's cute too! For me, I have to shave pretty regularly because I model and I don't want to upset the client. I hope that changes. I hope we'll get to a point where people don't care if a woman shaves or not.
LSG: What do you think is important to be talking about as women right now?
There are so many things that are taboo to talk about or even feel as a woman. I hope by drawing my innermost thoughts and feelings about sexuality I can help make women feel more comfortable and confident in their skin. Every time a woman can laugh or relate to a drawing that I made I feel like I succeeded. And every time I make a man uncomfortable I know I succeeded! Haha!
LSG: You have essentially branded yourself though the proliferation of Husa figures. Can you tell us about the process of incorporating a repeated motif in your oeuvre?
Drawing her/them wasn't a conscious decision. I simply can't stop drawing those figures. Even if I try to draw something else, I always end up drawing Husa again. I need them. Maybe, later on, I'll move in another direction, but right now they're an essential part of my work.
LSG: Hus Hus is rapidly gaining momentum and notoriety as a multi-disciplinary art brand. What does the term "art brand" mean to you?
I actually decided to kill Hus-Hus as a brand and work under my name instead. I realized I came up with Hus-Hus because I was scared of being taken seriously as an artist if I was making objects as well. After a conversation with my girlfriends, I realized I had just been lying to myself. I am an artist, but I'm also a designer. It's ok. I can be both. Maybe that sums up what the term “art brand” means to me :)
LSG: Elaborate on "Husa." How does it translate?
Husa means housemaid in Swedish. It wasn't something I planned on. My friend Ricky Chapman told me in a brief conversation to name her Husa without knowing the meaning of it. He just thought it sounded good. I thank him for coming up with the name.
LSG: Can you speak to your relationship with objects? What has moving off of the canvas into embroidery, apparel and beyond been like?
I love objects. I love making beautiful/funny things people can use in their everyday life. If I only sold paintings, only a few individuals would be able to access my work. I need my work to be accessible! I want to reach out to a larger crowd than just the art world. I also get easily bored. If I just painted all day, I would probably become very depressed. I need to work on different projects to stay sane.
LSG: Sexuality is front and center in your work. What is it about sexual anatomy that is important for you to explore in your art?
I wish I knew why I paint/draw certain things. I think it’s for other people to analyze. I just know that I like to tap into uncomfortable/triggering areas. I also like to make myself giggle when I work.
LSG: Is your work autobiographical?
Some of it, yes, but I would say most of it, no. I come up with different scenarios in my head all the time. But sometimes shitty/funny things do happen, and I have to draw them to get it out of my system.
LSG: What does your creative state look like? Do you get struck with waves of inspiration or is it a more subdued process?
It's usually a wave, and when it's not there I try to avoid chasing it, but it's hard. If I don't work, I don't make money so sometimes I can feel defeated when ideas don't come naturally. I know, in those moments, that I need a vacation.
LSG: Do you have to create art? Do you consider it an integral part of who you are?
Yes, because it's therapeutic for me. I’m not a very talkative person. I’m terrible at telling people how I feel about things. I'd rather draw instead.
LSG: What is your relationship with fashion? How do you see fashion intersect with art? Are they connected?
I love clothes SO much, and there are SO many amazing fashion designers out there. I hate chains and "fast fashion" and as a result, the fashion industry can make me very upset. I don’t know if fashion intersects with art for me. I think it’s up to the executor to decide. I don’t feel like I’m making art when I work on clothes.
LSG: What are requirements when it comes to an article of clothing? Do you have separate wardrobes for work and life, or are the two one and the same?
I need to be able to get messy in the studio. Even though I wear a painting robe, I always make sure that whatever I wear underneath is very comfortable. Otherwise, I end up feeling anxious and uptight.
LSG: Top spots for vintage in your studio's neighborhood?
LSG: What are you reading right now? Can you give us a favorite quote from it?
My Struggle: Book 1 by Knausgaard.
“For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.”
LSG: What music is currently playing in the studio?
LSG: Five things to do in the morning to set yourself up for an inspired day.
wake up early/jump out of bed
meditate and stretch
drink strong tea
write down goals