Interview with Camilla Engman
Swedish artist Camilla Engman’s work is fascinating, beautiful and mysterious. There is something very moving about her color palette of yellows, greys and neutral tones, but also her dreamlike scenarios where animals and humans share enigmatic stories. In this interview, she talks about her experience of being an artist, and all the possibly different lives left behind in her journey.
Where did you grow up? How was your childhood like?
I grew up in Trollhättan, a small town in Sweden. I think my childhood were pretty average.
Are there other artists in your family?
Not at all. My mother was cleaning at a school and my father repaired cars. None of them were creative as far as I remember.
When did you start drawing?
I don’t remember but at least when I was 4 years old. I have a memory of sitting on the floor with markers and a glass of water, since some of them had dried.
In a wonderful interview by Susannah Conway you said that, when you were a child, you wanted to be different things depending on your age: a nurse called María, a teacher called Eva, a princess called Rose-Marie, Agneta - the Abba singer-, and also wanted to have long hair (but your mom used to cut it short) and ride a horse to school. Do you think your actual profession allows you, in a way, to be all those things? Which one do you regret not becoming the most?
I still think it would be cool to be able to ride a horse to work! I think we all are those things, each and one of us. In a dream, in a thought or in reality. We have all been the singer of a famous band, the prettiest girl or a good person we admired.
Before becoming an artist, you worked as a hairdresser assistant, cleaning trains and planes at night, in a car factory, and also had three attempts to get into art school before you actually got in. Can we say that persistence is one of your strong qualities? What would you say to young artists that are struggling to find their way?
When you put it like that it sure sound that way. But I don’t think so. Maybe even the opposite. I’ve never been determined to be anything, but during all this it made me clear that I didn’t want to work at the car factory or anything like it. I knew I wanted to work with something that made me want to go to work and not crying. I wasn’t sure I was an artist, of any kind. But making pictures was what I was best at. I’m not sure at this at all but it might be so that it could have been anything creative.
Being an artist is, for most of us, being poor. You better know that. You’ll have to cherish time and freedom more than money. I am happy almost everyday I go to my studio and I do it even when I don’t have to. There is a community but is mostly pretty lonely work. I also think, for me, it is better to have a completely different place to work and keep the fun in creating.
For some artists is hard to work in shared projects, but you collaborated in several projects with other artists, including the creation of Studio violet with Elizabeth Duncan. What have your learned/liked from working closely with colleagues?
Collaborations can be heaven and hell. You’ll have to choose your partner carefully. I’ve been lucky. A good thing with working with others are that you will have to define yourself, where in this can I bend and not. What is my soul. Another thing is that you learn new things and if you are lucky it will take you to new places. When collaborations work it is the best thing ever! When collaborations work at its best it makes you even better 1+1=3.
Your little cutie dog Morran is part of your work and blog, as a companion and inspiration. How/when did you get her? Why did you choose her name? Tell us about her personality.
I think I got Morran in 1999. She got old and sick and is dead now. Her name is the sound dogs do (in Swedish), growling. As they say - be careful with what you name your dog. She was the reason I started blogging in early 2000. I was the webmaster for a website on her breed, nothing new ever happened there. So I started to upload two photos of Morran’s day every day. And that transformed in my own blog with Morran as my alter ego. There were many sad people around the world when she died. I’m not still sure what it was that made people like Morran so much, maybe it was my love for her that shone through. The funny thing is that Morran didn’t like people very much.
Do you watch TV?
I watch TV a lot and has always done. I grew up in front of a TV. The best part of the week was when the whole family was gathered in front of the TV on Friday evening. I love watching TV. When you see a movie you just see that movie, but when you are watching TV you can end up seeing something that you didn’t plan, something that will teach you something, something that will start a new way of thinking, a new interest. I hate reality shows though.
Your studio is in a building that used to be an Epidemic Hospital and now is called Epidemic Art. It’s funded by a non-profit organization that provides studio facilities for more that 100 artists. How is it to be part in such a rich community? Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share with us?
It is in an area that was an Epidemic Hospital before. It is sure a great place! As I said before, being an artist is mostly a lonely work, but being at a place with all these people makes it less lonely indeed. Also if you want to try something new or need help with anything it is easy to ask your neighbor artist. Here is a restaurant/cafe’ and we have different kinds of galleries. Sometimes there are workshops and artist talks. Right now I can’t come up with any anecdotes at all… but I’m sure there has to be many. This place started for over 25 years ago, and a place full of creative people - you can just imagine.
You’ve referred to your work with collections as “therapeutic art”, could you tell us about this? Is it related to a particular emotional state?
I guess it is that old collector state of mind that most people have. I also like how seemingly meaningless items suddenly gets important. Something that was trash two seconds ago now you look at it again and you see the shape, color and the structure and you see its beauty. There is also something therapeutic in arranging things, like a puzzle you have to solve.
Your work seems to have elements of surrealist painting, especially in relation with dreams and the unconscious, tell us about this.
It is like a parallel world. Just like this one, but a bit twisted. Just as twisted as this one but maybe in another direction. I don’t understand them fully myself. Especially not when I make them, it gets clearer after a while.
How do you see the role of women artists today?
Maybe I should, but I don’t think about that at all. I know I am a woman artist but I would like to be an artist. I am a pink, middle aged, tall, woman from Sweden. I know this defines me. But I am also a human on planet earth. Just as the rest of you.
You work with paper, painting, ceramics, installations, children books… is there anything you haven’t done yet that you would like to try?
I’d like to try out the film media a bit more! That will be the next :-)
You said that if you could choose another profession it might be “dog psychologist”, what do you think Morran would had to talked about in her sessions?
I think Morran was pretty happy. Of course she would have been even happier if we had l lived outside the city so that she could have done what she was supposed to, keeping an eye on strangers and rats. Maybe she would have tried to convinced me to move to the country side.
Did you knit her sweaters?
Yes I did and she absolutely hated them.
I absolutely love your poster for the Gothenburg Film Festival, what inspired you in that particular work?
I had been to the Film Festival since I was a teenager. I was thinking about the feeling it gives me. Meeting different cultures, seeing films you would never been able to see otherwise. The magic in film, that anything can happen. I also thought about those old black and white movies with smoking beautiful women. And in the end that was what stayed. The possibility to be someone else for a while.
Name two of your favorite books
I haven’t read much lately. But I like Haruki Murakami a lot, pick any two.
Why should we have art at home?
Yes, why should we? I think having things around you that means something for you, that you like and don’t want to loose, that is important. It doesn’t have to be art. Stop by meaningless things just because buying is fun. Make your things count.
Imagine a world without art. That would be a sad and dangerous place!
Do you wear your hair long now?
Yes I do. I cut my hair myself a month ago, it was a disaster! I’m going to a hairdresser tomorrow. Looking forward to it.