As Camilla Engstrom glides around her basement studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, unrolling canvases and mixing her signature vibrant paint palette, she looks every bit the confident artist. But the 26-year old—whose whimsical temperament perfectly complements the Pas de Calais collection she’s wearing for the occasion—insists that accepting this side of her has been a long road.
Growing up between Sweden and China, Camilla struggled to fit in. “I always looked different and ate different foods than other people,” she reflects. “I felt like nobody could relate to me, and even though I spent a lot of time drawing and painting, I never openly embraced being an artist.” Influenced by artistic designers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, she moved to New York to pursue fashion at FIT, but eventually became disillusioned with the career she thought she wanted.
“During this time, I started to draw more and more. I was thinking, what kind of figure can I draw that is the opposite of a fashion figure? I just wanted to have fun and giggle!” That’s when Husa was born—the gender-blurring, plump figure who continues to evolve and make Camilla and her growing fan base smile along the way.
“There’s something about being a woman—being in the female body—that is so sexualized, and sometimes I want to make fun of it to give it lightness,” she says of Husa, who is round, naked, and usually up to something cheeky. “Of course I get angry, but it would be draining not to be able to laugh about it. I chuckle while I’m painting sometimes, especially when I wonder what people will think when they see it.”
As her work began to attract a cult following, the art world took notice. Max Marshall from Deli Gallery, who now represents her, was immediately drawn to Camilla’s work, assuring her that she didn’t have to have a fancy MFA to be successful. “It’s extremely difficult to make art that successfully employs humor,” he tells The Window. “After meeting with Camilla a few times and discussing why she does what she does, it quickly became obvious that humor is being used as an entry point, even though the work is mainly focused on addressing issues of femininity, sexuality, and gender.” Deli Gallery will exhibit her large-scale paintings and works on paper at a solo show this fall.
Despite still feeling like a bit of an outsider in both the fashion and art worlds, it’s clear Camilla is relaxing into herself. “I was unhappy and bitter trying to blend in, and now that I’ve accepted myself, I find I’m connecting with so many people!” With a studio saturated in inspiration and her first solo show on the horizon, it’s clear that Camilla, along with Husa, have a bright future ahead.