By FRANCEASCA SEIDEN, AUG. 2016
Macabre: 1. Gruesome; ghastly; grim; 2. Resembling or associated with the danse macabre
Pop Surrealist pioneer Camille Rose Garcia's newest series of gothic, psychedelic nature paintings, Phantasmacabre at Corey Helford Gallery, is her first solo show in Los Angeles in five years, debuting the largest, most ambitious paintings of her career.
Garcia’s work takes us beyond the scope of dark fairy-tales and whimsical mythical worlds, and into the realm of childhood memories teetering between conscious and subconscious. Behind every ethereal painting lurks symbolic language, with layers of subtext that delve into specific subculture references as well. Garcia’s Disney-based depictions (for example her book retelling the Snow White classic in original words and images) are not the typical feminist gender studies -- though there are certainly no princesses waiting to be saved, kissed or woken up. Instead they are filled with charged childhood emotions and impulses of curiosity, confusion, manipulation, fear and vengeance, as Phantasmacabre brings forgotten fantasy to the surface.
Playful innuendos are a quiet throughline in Garcia’s work, as dreamlike scenarios serve as their foundation, blending unspoken sexual fodder, childlike wonder and an adolescent stance of anti-establishment. Garcia grew up in Anaheim, attending punk shows at night and Disneyland during the day. She sought wisdom from the likes of Burroughs and Jodorowsky, influencing the ethereal side of her work at the same time as her cultural surroundings worked their way into her color palette. "I'm trying to capture an emotional and psychological landscape,” Garcia says, “where dreams and memory combine to form a personal symbolic language, both unique and universal. I'm interested in the feeling of something beautiful and frightening existing at the same time. Something painful and pleasurable all at once."
She succeeds by intersecting the symbolism into a bevvy of feelings that reflect emotional states of disarray. The child of a Mexican activist filmmaker father and a muralist/painter mother, with whom she apprenticed at age 14, and growing up in the suburbs of the OC, Garcia found herself escaping into both the nearby utopic dystopia of Disneyland and the dystopic utopia of So Cal’s punk scene. Whitehot asks Garcia about those eclectic influences and what it’s like to be an artist in a time where the world needs creative solutions the most.
WHITEHOT: As a girl who grew up in a world of fairy tales, Disney movies and every cartoon imaginable your paintings give me a familiar sensation igniting so many memories. What first comes to mind is the epic scene from Fantasia when Mickey is hallucinating dancing pink elephants and broomsticks, the other is the classic 1929 animated short film “Hell’s Bells” where the demons gather for a wild party and chaos ensues. In most of these movies the pinnacle of scariness is when the villain seeks revenge. Are these the kind of specific examples that have influenced your work?
CAMILLE ROSE GARCIA: Yes, yes and yes! I remember seeing Fantasia for the first time as a young child and being both intensely stimulated and terrified of it. Animation is really my first love, and it’s a world I retreated into comfortably as a child. My own reality was mired in addiction and alcoholism, so I welcomed the idea of living in another world. Villainous revenge is a theme I felt very familiar with and to this day I have great love and empathy for villains! I love Disney, but never felt any connection to the female lead characters full of goodness. I much prefer their villains!
WM: How did/does the LA punk movement and punk music in general play into your world?
CRG: I grew up in an artistic family, but we lived in the suburbs in Orange County. For me, discovering the punk movement felt like the vital element of humanity that was missing from the sterile utopia of the suburbs. The vitality, the rawness, the messiness, the immediacy, and the message of being the resistance, being the angry voice rising up against bullshit, I still try to embody that ethos in my work. I’m not a perfect painter, I actually hate perfection and I like the look and feel of fast painting, having to just get the immediate action recorded. My favorite music recordings are often the demos, rough little things that hold all of the feels.
WM: Can you explain a little about how Alex Jodorowsky's films have impacted you? What’s the attraction to symbolism?
CRG: When I watch his films, I feel like I am dreaming or being hypnotized, and the language of symbols he uses, although they are personal for him, also touch upon deeply universal themes. Although I already use fairytale symbols and pop culture symbolism, I liked the idea of creating a personal language of symbols. So for this show Phantasmacabre, I created a deck of cards each with a symbol from my own personal language. Then, to start a painting I would pick 3 or 5 cards and create a relationship and a composition based on the cards.
WM: Does H.P. Lovecraft come to play with the title of your show? Do his writings influence your work at all?
CRG: That’s a great question! I’m unaware of the connection to the title! It wasn’t intentional, but the genre of horror is definitely an undertone in this show. I like the over-theatricality of B-movie horror; the look of those old posters is for sure an influence.
WM: There is a little vaudeville in your paintings especially with women, a kind of sensuality that is found in a 1920's Parisian dream sequence, innocent erotica meets Tim Burton, etc...is the undertone of playful sexuality a nod to yourself?
CRG: My model for female characters has always come from a Max Fleischer perspective, with Betty Boop being really the main influence. But yes, also noir film, Snow White, Cabaret, a kind of theatrical vibe for sure. Female sexuality is such a loaded subject, and in grad school all we talked about was feminism and conceptualism to the point where to even depict female sexuality in a humorous way was considered really out there. So yes, the sexuality I depict with females is playful, not too serious, and a little dirty but in a cartoony way.
WM: Growing up with a filmmaker father and a muralist mother, in the OC in the 70s and 80's must have been an interesting time. Do you feel that your perception of the world was more progressive having artistic parents? Were they influential supporters in your work?
CRG: Definitely, without a doubt. I’m really a combination of who they were and their genetic history. My father was Mexican/Yaqui Indian and grew up in the Barrios of East LA and came up during the civil rights movement in the 60’s. My mother was a single mom artist, finding a strong female voice during the women’s rights movement in the 60’s. So both of their experiences and relationships to the purpose of art have greatly influenced what I view as the main point of art/music/writing -- to be a voice of opposition, to be part of the counterculture, the underground. A voice of resistance. They were always very supportive, because art was such a big part of both of their lives.
WM: Which of your contemporaries (painters /artists) work do you tend to gravitate towards?
CRG: I really think there are so many talented artists out there right now, it’s so hard to even say. At this point, even choosing to be a creative artistic person is a revolutionary act, so I applaud anyone doing it.
WM: I love that you use glitter in your art, what is the reason behind it?
CRG: The use of glitter came from a love of those Mexican Day of the Dead paper-mache things, as a child I went with my nana to Olvera Street and we would look at all the glittery skulls and dancing skeletons. It’s kind of a nod to that and also to kitchy, lo-fi, childish fun. I like to have a sense of playfulness amongst the horror.
WM: You have said, “Most of my work has been about the painful intersection of nature and culture, the rampant destructive nature of the modern world. At times I feel a certain helplessness about the state of the world, and I retreat into beauty, into color, into music. This is the language of the universe, in all of its repeating patterns. This series of paintings is the most personal, but also universal. It is no longer about culture, but of trying to tap into a deeper symbolic language beyond words.” This quote really stuck out especially since we are going through a huge transition in the world where the truth of political, socioeconomic, environmental, corruption is harder to ignore and revealing itself daily in societal injustices. As an artist do you feel more of a sense of duty to create work that impacts people in such a way even if it’s metaphysical?
CRG: Absolutely, it has always been the main drive of my work to bring attention to the way in which Western civilization is destroying everything. Sometimes I’m more cryptic in the message, but at the end of the day we all feel the horror on a personal level. So I think it’s the same message, whether you are being very direct or more obtuse. There is another way to live that is full of a more beautiful magic, and I like to remind people of that.
Phantasmacabre runs through August 19th at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles. WM
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Franceasca Seiden is a writer based in Los Angeles.