The history of art has seen images of female beauty largely made for and controlled by male consumers and artists. Canadian contemporary artist Camilla d’Errico is an exceptionally talented illustrator, comic book writer, and painter who captures both the physical beauty and psychological complexity of her female subjects, instilling them with the depth and humanity often absent from images designed for the male gaze. Her colorful nymphae are recognizable by their large, dreamy manga-like eyes and dripping rainbows that look like the melting layers of a candy jawbreaker. Camilla’s female characters are often seen morphing into various animals, as though trying to get in touch with nature, or perhaps returning to a feral state.
With her show at Dorothy Circus Gallery coming up in March, we caught up with Camilla d’Errico to find out more about her versatile body of work and what makes her complex characters tic.
You have done a lot of work as a concept artist for video game companies over the years. How does the world of video game art compare with that of fine art?
Working for video game companies is a very collaborative and humbling experience. It isn’t just me working on my own in my studio creating whatever wild painting that pops into my head. A video game is a team effort. People have a say in what I create. I sometimes would dig in my heels if I felt very strongly about the direction of the art but, for the most part, it was about listening and learning. Video games also have a very targeted audience so I’m creating the art so it was very tuned into a certain demographic. Fine art isn’t really like that. I imagine a girl rising out of a pool of color with fish swimming around her head and I have no idea who this painting is for because essentially I am creating for myself, based on what I like and what I want to express. Being part of an organized team to tap into a selected audience is like driving in one art lane and ignoring the multilane of creative options next to you. You choose one exit and go down that road until you fork off and take another exit and so on and so forth all the while you are on a school bus with other people. It’s super fun, and I would gladly work on more video games.
In an interview with buzzworthy, you said when you first began painting your figures as opposed to drawing them “It was like discovering the earth wasn’t flat.” Now you work in a wide range of mediums from painting to digital art to vinyl toys. How has your work expanded with the introduction of each new medium?
I think it’s been a very liberating experience. I’m no longer constrained by the surfaces or tools that I use to create my art. Before I was focused on certain styles of art but now I’m free to play in multiple sandboxes. I think I get to say different things with the various art forms and I love that.
Are there any new mediums of art you are looking to foray into for the future?
I think that I’ve explored many mediums and styles that I’ve now found my voice with my duo oil paints and liquid acrylics. I do want to do more custom toys in the future so I’ll be focusing on those as exclusive pieces to offer my fans in the coming year.
You have recently spoken of a newfound love for writing TV fan fiction. Can we expect to see this new talent integrated into some future artistic work?
Oh my gosh, this is such a funny thing for me to be talking about. It was my dirty little secret for years and now the cat is out of the bag! I love fan fiction because it offers a different outlet for my creativity and also allows me to have a say in some of my favorite TV shows that, otherwise, I wouldn’t get to have. I’ve become so enamored with writing these that I’ve become addicted to writing. I want to continue to work on my stories privately so that I can develop my writing skills in order to create a novel series based on some of my characters. I’m still too shy to show many people my writing but I’m getting more and more encouraged by the response so far. Fingers crossed I’ll have the chance to bring a zombie and vampire or Helmetgirl story to life very soon!
Are there any new TV shows that have been particularly inspiring you lately?
I love supernatural shows like I love color! So recently I’ve become very fond of Stranger Things and Ash vs. Evil Dead. I still have favorites like Supernatural and my love-hate relationship with Walking Dead, haha. I think these shows are full of very well developed characters that can surprise me and thrill me. I am usually on the edge of my seat with these shows. Stranger Things is especially amazing to me because it centers a very adult theme with children. When I created my manga BURN it was many years ago when people weren’t very accepting of having children be the main characters of serious drama. My love for anime and manga is based on this very concept. The Japanese focus on maturing young adults for many of their stories, Sailor Moon, Naruto, Cardcaptor Sakura, all of those main characters are teens. So it’s great to see North America finally create some truly amazing stories that feature young characters. I think young adults have so much to offer in story-telling because they have this innocence and naivety about them that delivers powerful themes within the stories.
In an interview with your husband for evadegismo.com you also mentioned your distaste for one-dimensional female characters in modern storytelling. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to bring dimensionality and authenticity to the female characters in your artwork?
It is very true that I don’t like one-dimensional female characters. I’m not a fan of “tropes”. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read, watched or played where the characters have a stereotypical personality. Hot girl is mean, or big guy is dumb, or main character is the epitome of goodness and rides the moral high ground all the way to the end. There are SO many kinds of people out there, an infinite assortment of personalities filled with strengths and weaknesses. Female characters are particularly underused and also missing in many movies. How many times are the only roles for females as mothers (usually they end up dead) or as the love interest and nothing else? I get frustrated when I can count on one hand the roles women play in a movie. It is pretty surprising when you realize that Finding Nemo only had four females in it. An entire ocean and only three of the fish were female. It would have been simple enough to have one of the three sharks be a girl. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and how George R.R Martin writes characters. I love his quote about writing female characters: “Well, you know, I’ve always considered women people.” I think it is the responsibility of every creator out there to represent genders as truthfully and colorfully as possible. I want to see a writer create a character that doesn’t need a gender to identify their role. Women don’t have to only be mothers or love interests: they can be vegetarian sharks as well.
How do you achieve this effect where others have failed?
When I create my work I have so many things that I consider that will help bring depth to the characters. Each painting is intended to be a candid snapshot of the character’s life. I don’t pose my characters for a portrait. I want to capture a natural look and moment. When you take a picture of someone when they don’t expect it you see so much emotion in them. I imagine what that person is thinking in that moment, what they are feeling, and to me, I think they are feeling many things at once. That’s what I want to bring to life in my paintings. I want the characters to be caught off guard in a moment where they are feeling multiple things at once because that is the human condition. I hope it comes through and those emotions are relatable.
Speaking of portrayals of women, you have also noted that your work features less nudity than it once did due to comments from fans. Does pressure from your audience ever stifle your creative process?
I’ve been painting for over ten years and through the decade I’ve heard so many negative comments from the public that also includes some nasty comments from angry fans. It is extremely hard to be the person at the center of the negative attention and not let it affect me especially when what people are saying is misunderstanding my work. I’ve been told some pretty horrible things because of my nudes and it is not fun, it hurts my heart. I am only human after all. It is easier for me to not paint a nude and avoid the controversy. I don’t want my art to be a fight with the world. This isn’t to say that I refuse to paint nudes or that I have succumbed to the pressure of North American views on nudity. I think it just changed the themes I wanted to pursue. There are instances where nudity is absolutely necessary for me to tell the story of that character, for example, “Mademoiselle Gatto.” She had to be a nude because she is blind and the nudity is a statement about vulnerability. I have many ideas and themes I want to explore and they do not need to show the female form so I don’t. And just in case anyone is questioning whether or not I am too scared to paint nudes my painting “Nips” should put that to rest. I think my statement with that particular painting says it all. Nudes are not porn, come guys porn is done by the likes of the Babestation Babes. It is as ridiculous to be offended by painted breasts, as it is to have boobs lactating rainbows.
The subjects of your paintings are primarily representational but there is also an abstract, drippy melting rainbow effect featured in a lot of your work. Is this meant to carry a specific symbolism?
Absolutely. The melting rainbows each identify a certain aspect of the girl’s personality or place in the world. There is symbolism in the pattern, the color, the texture, all of these are things I consider when I use a melting effect in my paintings. So much of what I create is a puzzle, each part of the painting is a piece that represents the united whole.
Is it representative of a larger theme throughout your work?
The first melting rainbow I ever painted was “Beyond The Rainbow”. At the time I created her I saw the melting colors as a painful loss. These girls were losing the most beautiful parts of themselves. It was sad and very emotional. Since then the melting rainbows I paint have taken on new meanings. My new body of work for my show at Dorothy Circus in March is called “Submerged”. Each of the girls is rising or surrounded by melting colors, some of which are in black and white. The colors are now representative of the world around them and the perception of nature and their existence within in. Previously my work for Corey Helford Gallery in 2016 for my solo show “Dances with Dreams” was a completely wild and abstract relationship with the melting rainbows. Those melting colors were parts of the girl’s minds and hearts that represented strength and creativity. I feel that the melting colors represent how I am maturing as an artist and a person. I have no idea how they’ll evolve in the future but I do feel strongly that they will always be an emotional symbol in my art.
Please tell us about your upcoming solo at Dorothy Circus Gallery in Rome and the below works which will be on view from March, 30.
The show, on which I’ve been working during the past few months, will focus on my last paintings, including “Capuchina”, “Ajna,” and “Minerva”.
“Ajna” is all about human perception and how humanity views the planet. We are as much as part of the earth as all the other fauna and animals yet we don’t see it. I wanted to show my feelings about how people have treated the planet. We are slowly killing off our resources, which is why I represented nature in black and white: we are taking their energy and not seeing how we are affecting it. The colors of her eyes are secondary colors because we put the earth’s life second to our needs. Human beings are amazing and capable of so much. Our greatest asset is our compassion which is why I wanted to show a great emotion in the girl’s features. We need to open our “third eye” and see what we are a part of because it is a beautiful world that is rich in color and life!
“Capuchina” in reference to the Capuchin Monks/Friars and the crypt in Rome where one monk created a beautiful yet bizarre art display using the bones of the people buried in the crypt known as The Capuchin Crypt. This painting is inspired by that artist. I wanted this piece to be a statement about life and death. Rather than seeing Death as a sad ending, I want to see it as a beautiful part of our lives. The skulls represent different facets of life which melt into the endless stream of our time.
“Minerva” evokes the concept of dualism. I wanted to explore the philosophy of the human mind vs the world we exist in. Dualism in this painting highlights the juxtaposition of physical and nonphysical elements. It’s an exploration of our state of being shown form and our minds being given color. There is so much to explore in the world and within ourselves that it would really help if we had a Goddess of wisdom to guide us.