Many creatives resist standard schedules and dull routines. For Camille Rose Garcia, escaping the everyday comes from finding the right music, art and literature for inspiration. It also involves inviting other people into her carefully created compositions.
Growing up in Orange County, Garcia felt that her surroundings were “very dry.” She hoped the environment at the time — and the routine — wasn’t “the only existence we’ve known as humans.” Garcia has visited Mexico many times, a place where “a kind of transparence between the dimensions of the living and the dead and the spiritual world” exists. Coming back home, she held on to that mystique and channeled it into her art.
For “Phantasmacabre” at Corey Helford Gallery, her first local solo show since 2011, Garcia created some of her largest work to date. Garcia grew up with a muralist for a mother, so she's used to seeing large-scale art, but the challenges of displaying and selling large work usually stopped her from creating anything as big as what she made for this show.
Now that her hesitations are gone, she feels free enough to explore her material in an even more immersive and personal way. And that meant breaking free of the stereotypes of being a female artist.
“I think there’s a misconception that females paint these smaller, more delicate, beautiful, intimate kind of paintings,” Garcia says. “Something large-scale automatically is unexpected and it becomes sort of, I guess, a ballsy move or kind of like a masculine sort of thrusting this in your face kind of thing. I like the idea of playing with that. There’s these big pieces but they’re very feminine, they’ve very fluid, they’re very beautiful.”
Another challenge: portraying the nude female form in a way that's different from the usual depictions of naked bodies.
“When approaching that content from a female gaze, it’s different, because from a male gaze it’s usually this sort of leisurely pose and non-aggressive, nonthreatening female languid kind of pose,” Garcia says. “That’s usually what you encounter with a nude painting by a male, and in approaching that I was like, 'Well, how can I have the nudity be the source of power?'”
In her pieces, Garcia might give the viewers nude figures — but she doesn’t make it easy to gaze at their figures as you normally would take in a female nude in other works of art. Her figures are unsettling — in some scenes, they seem undead. They’re missing an eye; the space between their breasts is decorated with spiders and their webs; they bleed out of open wounds.
“I like the idea of depicting all of these different symbols of femininity,” Garcia says. “In this show there’s three symbols: There’s a young Lolita, which is like a powerful, sexual younger female; and then there’s kind of a wise empress middle-aged [figure that] has the wisdom; and then there’s the old crone, like the old witch, that is like the horrifying female but she has all this power.”
Symbols play a large part in Garcia’s work — her influences include filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jungian archetypes and fairy tales. In 2010, she released an illustrated version of a classic story: Her Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a New York Times bestseller that combines original text from Lewis Carroll and 40 of Garcia's illustrations.
For Garcia, this text captures the things she loves about giving in to one’s imagination and getting lost in the surreal. Because of the way it “opposed the kind of linear way that Western civilization operates,” it opens up another space for people to experience creativity.
“There’s something in there that we all relate to and understand,” Garcia says. “As humans, that part is missing in our culture, that part of like, OK, it can’t all be I’m checking my emails, I’m checking my phone, I’m taking care of the bills — doing whatever has to be done in this linear fashion to operate in modern society. There’s a part of ourselves where none of that matters, we need to go deep in our imagination and connect with something way stranger.”
Yet as strange as her compositions get, the source material stays very real. In looking at the fairy tale from a modern viewpoint, Garcia also has brought surrealism into a modern age. It’s unsettling but gorgeous, mysterious yet familiar.
Garcia expertly layers each of her pieces with small details, visual references and symbolic meaning. “Phantasmacabre” features Heart of Darkness, a large piece that started as an exploration of “the rise of the feminine” and “the strength of that,” but turned into something else. After experiencing “a difficult year,” Garcia instead dove deep into the “battling of inner demons.” In taking on a large canvas, Garcia spilled her visions onto a surface and met those demons face to face.
In tapping into her imagination and exploring real moments through surreal visual language, Garcia wants to not only explore her own thoughts and visions but also bring the viewer into another realm altogether. Her pieces encourage the viewers to turn their own surroundings into something a little more magical, a little more imaginative.
“Every time I start a series of paintings it’s like, OK, I’m going to that portal and tapping that other world to bring it to everyone else,” Garcia says. “To know this still is possible, this still exists.”
Camille Rose Garcia’s “Phantasmacabre,” Corey Helford Gallery, 571 S. Anderson St., downtown; opens Sat., July 16; runs through Sat., Aug. 20. (310) 287-2340, coreyhelfordgallery.com.