Camilla d’Errico has long established herself as a major player within the vibrant world of Pop Surrealism. Weaned on a diet of manga and anime, d’Errico injects her own unique brand of big-eyed girls with flavours of these Japanese artforms, in an ‘East meets West’ extravaganza. Intent on capturing the emotive essences within both the masterful character creation and narrative construction achieved by her Asian inspirations, d’Errico digs deep into her own personal emotional reservoir and marries the resulting feelings with her love of animals and nature, and also her appreciation of literature, poetry and metaphor. The symbolically rich imagery produced leads us on adventures into subconscious realms that fuel our imaginations and stir our emotional mélange.
Camilla d’Errico is a first generation Canadian, born in Ottawa, Ontario. She received her Illustration and Design diploma from Capilano College in North Vancouver in 2001. Since then d’Errico has worked commercially with companies such as: Dark Horse Comics, Walt Disney, Random House, Tokyopop, Hasbro and Image Comics. Camilla’s personal artwork has been exhibited worldwide and has been shown in renowned galleries like Thinkspace, Roq La Rue and G1988 to name a few.
WOW x WOW is honoured to bring you this exclusive interview with Camilla. Read on to discover her thoughts on the Pop Surrealism movement, the influence nature has on her work, her feelings about viewers interpretations of her art and also about her recently released book ‘Pop Painting’.
Hey Camilla! First of all, thanks for agreeing to free up some of your valuable time in order to have this wee chat, we really appreciate it. First of all, we’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community?
I live in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been living in the downtown area for quite a few years now, and even though I wasn’t born here, unlike my husband, I feel as much as part of this city as any born and raised Vancouverite. I love the diversity of the city, the way that it has a division of areas that appeal to people on varying levels. You can walk the entire span of Vancouver in one day, if you speed walk, and travel from cobblestone streets to palm trees and sandy beaches, from hustle and bustle shopping districts to lush parks. There is definitely an art scene in the city with a tremendous amount of talent. Before my life got crazy and complicated, basically when I was single, I was a very big part of this scene. I’d go to all the art openings and artist get togethers and I loved it very much. But as I began to flush out my career and establish myself more internationally, I haven’t had quite as much free time as I used to, so I haven’t really gone to many openings in the past few years. But for anyone that is visiting the city there are a multitude of places that you can go to see some fantastic art.
Do you remember the first piece of art you ever sold? How did the sale come about and how did it make you feel?
You know, I don’t really remember the very first piece. I’ve been doing art for so long that I can’t recall that, but I do remember selling my first illustration through a gallery and how that made me feel. I wasn’t expecting much when I walked into the Ayden Gallery back in 2004, I was just passing through and by sheer coincidence they were setting up for a snowboard themed art show and I happened to have a few ink and marker illustrations that I’d just finished for Ride Snowboards. The owner of the gallery, Ken Lum, asked me to bring them by the next day and I did, then he proceeded to sell those pieces to his collectors before the show even opened. To say I was shocked and thrilled is an understatement. It was truly one of the most rewarding and unexpected miracles in my early career. I’ll never forget the feeling of knowing there was someone in the world that wanted to spend money on my art. It was so cool.
Storytelling and narrative are at the heart of the art you make. In your opinion, what are some of the most important ingredients that go into making a successful visual narrative?
Oh wow, that’s a great question! I think that anytime someone is trying to create a story with one singular image it has to be layered with symbolism. Whether the elements are literal and obvious or whether they are more abstract and possibly just something the creator understands I think that its important to have multiple layers that create the story. I use color and textures, animals and patterns as well as facial features to tell my stories. Sometimes there are a lot of elements and other times there are only a few but I am always very specific when I’m painting to use elements that portray the story of the character I’m rendering.
When I’m working on my literature inspired series, Tanpopo, I’m using a very different method to creating an immersive story. My biggest focus in manga and narrative comics is character development. I want to strip the characters down emotionally and build them back up through the experiences they go through. We all have journeys that we go through in life and what fascinates me most of all is why we make the decisions we do and how we change. So in this sense I want to take my characters through trails and tribulations to define them and see who they become in the aftermath of their journey.
Anime and Manga have been important influences on you throughout your professional career. If you could reminisce a little for us about your initial discovery of the genres and what sucked you in. Also, what aspects of it would you say you provided you with the springboard off of which you propelled yourself into creating your own style?
I can pinpoint that moment exactly, it was Sailor Moon back in the 90’s when Cartoon Network began airing the dubbed version on tv. That series changed me to my core. I’d never seen a cartoon that had a combination of whimsy, style, magic, romance and teenage angst rolled into one story. It had everything! It also didn’t hurt the fact that Tuxedo Mask was a total dreamboat! Seriously, a guy that fights in a tux and has dark hair and blue eyes and is highly romantic…come on! It was amazing. I was obsessed and that’s when I began to go online to find everything and anything that I could, including the manga and the Japanese originals TV series. The thing that really propelled me into the world of manga and anime was in fact the unedited subtitled series of Sailor Moon from Japan. This discovery of the unfliltered anime blew my mind. The North American TV show that I’d been watching was almost a complete departure from the original, so much was cut out or changed for the North American audience that it shocked me. From that point on I decided that I would only watch the Japanese version of any anime. And down the rabbit hole I went! I was fascinated by not only the style of anime and manga but by the stories they were telling. Comics and cartoons in Canada at the time were very immature and geared towards kids, but in Japan anime and manga had a range that spanned into adult themes. I not only fell in love with the big eyed look but also what kind of characters and stories I could tell with this style. So from that point I realized that my very soul was tied to the Japanese sense of art and story telling and my style evolved naturally into what it is today.
Nature, and in particular the animal kingdom, is another big source of inspiration. What are some of the earliest memories you have, which contributed to forming the foundation of your life long passion for, and interest in wildlife?
My mother is an amazing woman, she taught me early in my life that all animals, from the smallest to the biggest, have a right to live and exist alongside us. She won’t kill anything, not even a spider because she says that it’s cruel to end a life just because we can. She believes in the cycle of life, animals eat animals to live, so I was raised eating meat, but I was raised not to kill for sport or because I simply could. My father is a hunter who hunts for sustenance and he taught me all about the animal kingdom and the hierachry of that world. He never killed for sport, he killed to provide food for us.
You refer to yourself as a Pop Surrealist and have even released a book called ‘Pop Painting’ which is the first ‘how to’ guide to painting in a pop surreal style. Could you please define what the term ‘Pop Surrealism’ means to you and what your hopes are for the future of the movement?
The term itself was actually something that was given to me and not something that I chose. There are a lot of artists and gallerists that don’t like the term because it is trying to define a style of artwork by a very broad stroke. I didn’t realize what I was creating would fall under the umbrella that is Pop Surrealism, I was simply painting big eyed girls with strange elements that defied the natural order because it was a part of my personality to create visual puzzles and bring that large wide eyed beauty from a simple anime drawing to a fully rendered portrait. I learned to accept and love the term Pop Surrealism. People need to label and define things, even art, and being part of this movement means that I am side by side with creative geniuses such as Mark Ryden and Audrey Kawasaki, which to me is an honor. I suppose the simplest way to explain the art form is to break it down into its two titles, Pop and surrealism. The Surrealism part is obvious. Art in this movement is highly Daliesque, in the way that it defies logic, time and space. Gravity doesn’t exist, objects and animals shift from one form to another completely different one in a singular image. Watermelon butterflies, hammerhead orcas, people with antlers, all of these unnatural and strange creatures make up the ‘Surrealism’ of the movement.
The ‘Pop’ part refers to pop culture. Using characters and elements from movies and cartoons into high end artwork is the secondary part of this movement. I’m not sure who started the idea or why no one had done it before, but as soon as artists began painting well known and loved characters and blending them into the surreal landscapes and portraitures the name Pop Surrealism was born. I’m not a scholar on the subject by any stretch of the imagination. There are many other artists and gallerists that can give you a very detailed break down of how the movement began and what it is. I am humbled to be part of this art movement and in awe of my peers and what we are all creating. My hope is that the movement doesn’t become saturated or flooded by people that are forcing their art to fit in with the Pop Surrealism style. I was lucky that my artwork fell into the region that is Pop Surrealism but I would never purposefully create a painting so that it could be defined by the style. Art needs to be original and an expression of the artist’s soul, if it isn’t then the soul of the artwork won’t be there, it’ll just be a pretty picture trying to be something that it isn’t. I hope that my new book, Pop Painting, can inspire a new generation of artists to find their own creative voice and expression. I want readers to see where my style comes from and what makes my art my own while teaching them the techniques and tricks that will help them create their own paintings. I am looking forward to seeing what the next generation of artists create and to see how the new artwork will become a movement all of its own.
Do the interpretations viewers offer about your work ever end up having an effect what you produce? What are your thoughts about the dialogue and conversation cycle which is created between the artist and viewer?
There are positives and negatives to listening to what people have to say about my artwork. I know that art is interpretive and that it is not universal so on one hand I’ll have very excited fans and on the other are people who just like to criticize and hide behind the anonymity of the internet to be jerks.
In the past I let the negatives outweigh my own choices when it came to nudity. Because it was difficult for me to hear the criticisms and not let it affect me I stopped painting nudes for a time. Of course now I’ve learned not to listen to the naysayers. My beliefs are based on my European heritage and that’s what I paint now. To me the human body and nakedness are considered natural and are totally separate from sexuality.
When it comes to the positive I’m always interested in hearing what people have to say about my artwork, whether its an interpretation or a story that they see in the art. And I do get a few suggestions from people, especially my family, and I have to admit I’ve used an idea or two, but generally I try to stay true to my own ideas and imaginings. I love it when fans send me pictures of bizarre animals or suggestions for what animal to paint. I’ve been introduced to so many new creatures through my fans that give me lots of inspiration.
What is your relationship with art history? Do you feel it is important for artists to have a knowledge and understanding of what has gone before them?
I definitely studied art history in college and I learned a lot. There are quite a few art books on my shelves that span various ages, including my personal favourite, Raphael. I think artists should have an understanding of what art was like throughout human history. There is so much to learn from our ancestors.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
When I was 19 I went to San Diego Comic Con with my mother and we had the opportunity to meet John Buscema. He was such an inspiration to me. What I learned from him that day altered me completely and to this day I continue to keep his words close to my heart. We spoke about art and being an artist so he asked me a very important question: why did I want to be an artist? I didn’t have to think to hard about it, I answered that I love drawing and that’s all I wanted to do for my life. He smiled and nodded. Then he said to me, “That’s good, because if you want to be an artist to be rich and famous you’re better off trying to become an actor, its easier to be an actor than it is to be a rich and famous artist. You should do art for the love of it, because you are passionate for it. It’s that passion that will get you through the long days, the all nighters and the impossible deadlines. Passion for what you’re doing will be the only thing that you’ll have to keep you going when you get screwed over, and it’ll happen more than once, when you have no money and you want to give up, passion for art is what will get you through it. Because being a successful artist isn’t about money or fame, it’s loving what you do.” When he said that my heart swelled up with a warm and tingling feeling because I knew that I felt the same way he did. He gave me the words to live by. And I’ve lived my life that way ever since.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
Anything? Just one? Oh mamma that’s not fair, lol. I want to own so many pieces of art. I’d give anything to own an original by James Jean or Greg Simkins or Mark Ryden, I’d give anything to own one of their pieces. But if I could have anything at all I might want Raphael’s painting ‘Lady With A Unicorn’.
What’s next for Camilla d’Errico?
I have a lot coming up in 2016! On January 5th my book Pop Painting made its debut. This is the follow up to my first ‘how-to’ book Pop Manga. Where that book taught people how I draw, Pop Painting will be an entire book dedicated to teaching people how to paint the way that I do. It was a labour of love putting the book together with Random House and I’m thrilled to have seen its release.
Following closely on the heels of that launch will be my third art book with Dark Horse Comics entitled: Rainbow Children. This is the next installment in my art book series with them and will feature many of my paintings and work in the past couple of years. I’m very excited to release the book because I know people have been clamouring for a collection of my rainbow work and this book will deliver a big art punch!
My next product launch will be in February in collaboration with Coastal.com and Derek Cardigan. This will be my first ever line of sunglasses and reading glasses! There are six distinct pairs and each has customizable lenses. These are a limited edition release of only 500 each, once they sell out they will be gone!
My next art show is at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles April 23rd with Kazuki Takamatsu. He’s one of my favourite artists and I’m honoured to be showing alongside him at CH Gallery. I’ll be producing a dozen new paintings as well as a dozen new pen and ink drawings. So right now I’m painting like mad to get them all done!
The next project I have on the horizon is an adult coloring book with Random House that will debut in July called Pop Manga Coloring Book. That will be my very first coloring book and I couldn’t be more excited. It will feature new works as well as re-imaginings of my previous artwork that people can go wild with and color to their hearts content.