The advantages of being a female artist, as has been stated with biting irony, include the following: working without the pressure of success, not having to be in museum shows with men, and not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius. New York-based artist Camilla Engstrom is doing her part to combat this status quo and carve out a space not only for herself but for other women building art careers.
“I’ve had so many men in my life tell me I’m not a good painter or I’m not a serious artist just because I didn’t go to a fancy art school,” Camilla tells us during an exclusive preview of her exhibit at Brooklyn’s Cooler Gallery. “If I listened to them, I would never do anything. It’s important to be confident. It’s important to be very aggressive, produce a lot, and show people that you’re very serious about what you’re doing.”
“It’s important to be very aggressive, produce a lot, and show people that you’re very serious about what you’re doing.”
“I’ve had so many men in my life
tell me I’m not a good painter or
I’m not a serious artist just because
I didn’t go to a fancy art school.
If I listened to them, I would never do anything.”
Camilla also mentions experiencing some resistance in the art world because of her background in fashion—she initially moved to New York from her native Sweden to study women’s sportswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. During her time as a student, she worked for Calvin Klein and J.Crew—eventually leaving fashion behind to pursue her foremost passion, drawing and illustration. Since then, though focusing on new mediums, she’s made the choice to offer accessories and other fashion pieces that feature her work—and it’s for a very touching reason.
“I do have this fear that the art world is not going to take me seriously because I still make tote bags and things like that, but I love making those things,” she explains. “I do it because it means that younger women who can’t afford expensive art can still get a little piece of me. It’s like how artists have a show in a museum, then in the gift shop you can buy a little something—it’s the same idea. I still want to be able to connect with those younger women.”
One glance at Camilla’s work instantly communicates her core message: a playful perspective on female power. She draws a number of different subjects, with a marked interest in animals and florals, but an adorable little character named Husa (shown in the sculpture above) is a constant figure throughout her work, enjoying different activities: drinking wine, taking a bath, napping. And there’s one notable detail Husa possesses: She’s always nude. Camilla’s inspiration for that nudity is particularly profound.
“When I worked in fashion, I was drawing fashion illustrations a lot, and I was extremely disturbed by the way the fashion figures had to look,” she tells us. “As soon as I quit my job, I continued drawing, and I just wanted to have fun with it. I was thinking about what kind of shape would make me giggle, and none of them had clothes because I was just sick of drawing clothes. Then I gave her a face, and I started to post her on Instagram, and people seemed to think she was funny. I’m very shy and it’s hard for me to express myself, so Husa became like a diary for me. If I was happy or uncomfortable, I would just draw her instead of expressing it literally.”
Camilla’s passion for empowering women isn’t limited to her artwork—it extends to her fashion choices, which made her partnership with J Brand a natural next step. “The first time I wore J Brand, I was really surprised at how comfortable the denim is,” she says. “Sometimes I wear jeans and it feels almost like I’m being punished, because they’re so stiff and tight. There’s something in J Brand’s material that provides a lot of stretch. It’s important for fashion to be comfortable and for women to be able to move around.” We feel confident that if Husa wore jeans—or any clothes at all, really—she would agree.