Dropping acid in the shadow of Disneyland can change you. Camille Rose Garcia would know because the California native spent her youth living near the Magic Kingdom, yet her version of family-centric suburbia was not the Rockwellian stereotype. Personal family issues helped her see through the happy tract-home facade, and she soon embraced Orange County’s counter-culture scene. The girl who grew up loving fairy tales eventually pushed herself to extreme places, including a very bad acid trip, yet these intense experiences inform her artwork with twisted themes and layered symbolism. Garcia still loves to channel her childhood fairy tales through art, but these days they seem more like a psychedelic Disney-Dalí mashup. PRØHBTD spoke with Garcia to learn more.
When you were a child reading fairytales and living in the shadow of Disneyland, did you see dark themes in the content even then?
For this show in particular, I wanted to use layered symbols of fairy tales and tarot cards—like the way [Alejandro] Jodorowsky uses layered symbolism—to tell a more personal narrative. Yes, growing up in the suburbs, I personally saw a lot of darkness with alcoholism, domestic abuse, addiction and other hidden problems. Going to Disneyland was a release, but I could see a representation of the frightening elements. [Walt] Disney pulled them from global fairytales to do his movies, so they are representative—the witch, the old crone, the villains—all that stuff is in there. As a child that resonated with me. I always loved a good villain. I love a good horror movie. This [art] show in particular is called Phantasmacabre, and it's this embrace of that dark side: the horror, the pain, the beauty, everything together.
What are some elements of magic you believe might be real?
I have this book called Natural Magic or something, and it’s about how you can use elements in nature to tune in to their deeper meanings. I am fascinated by any kind of magic that tunes in to the natural world—whether it's the elements of fire, water, air or earth—[or] this idea that we're all vibrations, all part of the same thing. I don't know if that's exactly magic, but Western civilization has largely snuffed out some of these elements. We're very much a linear, logical society, and there's not a lot of room in our culture for other dimensions and other realms of being, except maybe through the arts. I feel the act of painting or making music or writing has a little element of magic. That's the way you tap into another dimension, going a little bit deeper into the self maybe. For me, working with color and pattern and shape is a way I can tap into that world. If I can make something that helps people see things in a different way or takes them out of their normal day-to-day world, I think I've done my job.
Your recent exhibit, Phantasmacabre, featured the largest paintings you ever made. How big are they?
The biggest one was 8 x 10 feet, and a few were 6 x 8 feet. I'm also did a big mural. It's kind of nice. There's a little more room for a longer narrative and more layers of insanity. I usually paint on wood, so when I decided to make these big pieces, I thought, “Do I change the technique and paint on canvas?” I decided against it, but transporting the art became a little bit more difficult because of the weight.
The scale also informs what is going to be on the painting. I had an idea called Venus Rising—it played off Venus coming out of the half-shell—about the rise of feminine power and femininity. For some reason, it wasn't working for me so I switched to this big, bad wolf and this giant villain. I had done a small sketch of the wolf, but I thought this can't just be a small- or medium-sized painting. You have a giant villain, a big, bad wolf, it has to be large. I scrapped the whole first go at that painting and imposed this other idea on it. It was like the scale had to inform what the piece would be.
Images (left to right): Someone's in the Wolf, Revenge of Lolita Phantasma, Spider Pussy, Sooo Good, What Are You Looking at Pussy Face, Molaris Phantasma Wolfen, Serpentine Dream and House of Psyche.
Your artwork is so rich in symbolism. You want the viewer to take away what they personally see in the art, but do you have any tips on looking for symbolism that better reflects your original intent?
I definitely like the idea of symbols having multiple meanings. I finished this ink-on-paper drawing of a vulture with a human hand in his mouth that’s maybe been there for a while. The vulture is holding up a noose that says, "Hang up the ghost." I like the dual meanings. You could hang up your clothes like, "I'm going to put this away," which could mean I'm putting away these ghosts of my past, these things tormenting me. Or I'm going to hang this up with the noose and kill it. I'm going to kill off my ghost. Then you have the vulture, which for me represents patience and transformation, waiting for the inevitable. So this macabre idea is also beautiful in terms of continuing the cycle of death and the creation of life.
I'm looking at a painting right now in my studio with these two Lolita-like characters holding cups, and there's the big, bad wolf head having been beheaded. The girls have swords, and the blood is coming out. Okay, what are cups? Cups are vessels. They're the feminine. Blood is the life force. My own personal experience of what this painting means is a young female going back and conquering the villains that I encountered in childhood, which were domestic abuse and violence and alcoholism. Conquering those things might follow you through life. That's my personal idea of this painting. Other people are going to see something else. Whatever the viewers might see at first is always correct because it is their personal experience with symbolism.
I have a spider throughout all the paintings, and the spider also has multiple meanings. On one hand, it's something macabre that’s associated with dark corners of the mind. On the other hand, it's the weaver of life. I think it's Indian mythology or something where a spider god weaves the web of life, so it's this idea of connecting everything.
In the ʼ80s, did you get into the punk rock flyer art that was popular then?
Actually, I did. In high school, my boyfriend was in this band with the drummer from D.O.A., and we had people come through that were in different punk bands like Social Distortion. All those Orange County bands. I would do a flyer or a logo for a band. I did all that stuff. I never kept it.
I still am very involved with music. I love doing stuff for bands because I feel that's another element that brings me into a different realm, especially seeing live music. I think, especially in the suburbs at the time, the music was a counter-reaction to the control on the horror of the ordinary. It was like, “We need to make something that is against all this, something full of life and aggression and passion." I feel it's important for society to have elements that counter all that's normal.
Weren’t you in an all-girl punk band when you were a teenager?
Yeah, The Real Minx, but I was in my early 20s. Art school was a lot of critical theory and dry intellectualism, and when I got out, I didn't want to do art at all. It was boring to me. The life had gotten sucked out of it because what I liked was from the underground and comics and children's books. I liked a lot of illustration, which the high art world sees as a separate thing.
I didn't want to do art for a while, and it was this weird coincidence that I worked at a coffee house with these other women... Paula plays guitar, this other person plays drums, I play bass. It was great because all I wanted to do at that point was play music. We were together for a few years, and it was a blast. We recorded one album, but I had moved to LA, and I couldn't keep driving back and forth. Also, I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue art or music. I couldn’t do it all with a 40-hour a week job, so I chose art. I just bought a guitar recently. I still play music. I hope to do another band someday.
During a three-year period in your teens, you were into tripping and smoking. How does that period of your life inform your current views on doing mushrooms or smoking cannabis?
That's a good question. I actually smoke pot every day. I haven't done any hallucinogens since high school. People can learn a lot from hallucinogens, but when I did them, I was with really dark people in a really dark place. I hung out in a music scene in the ʼ80s, so there was a ton of heroin, cocaine, any drug imaginable. I pretty much lived amongst heroin addicts. There was a lot of darkness, a lot of sickness, people dying. Addiction alone is one of the saddest things. Some of the most creative people I know are no longer here, either from suicide or never coming out of it. I don't know that I chose to be in that world, but that’s where all the creative people I knew were. I saw the futility of getting sucked into a cycle of addiction because I grew up with that in my earlier years. My mom's boyfriend lived with us, and he was a terrible, abusive and violent alcoholic.
Hallucinogens can be very important and vital for someone to explore in a controlled setting. If you’re just partying with it in your teenage years, I think it can be very damaging. I couldn't do any drugs or drinking for like three to five years after I took acid this one time and had a really bad trip. If I did acid again, the portal to that doorway would just open back up, and I kind of think it never really closed for me. I was with bad people, and it was a dark place, so I have not been brave enough to take it again.
The cannabis movement is great. Out of all the drugs, that one should not be criminalized. I use it like a glass of wine to open up my mind creatively. I think it's good. I don't think people should be in jail for that. I also think we need to have a different perspective towards plants in general. Why are we going to criminalize a plant? It's insane to me. These plants are put on this earth for us to explore and utilize and understand. With refined forms of these plants like cocaine and heroin, some people get addicted. That's where it becomes extreme, but we live in an extreme culture. Everything is to the excess. There is no moderation. That's more indicative of our current culture than it is of any of those particular plants.
Does smoking help you make art?
It helps me put away the current reality of the world, which is, "Oh yeah, I haven't checked my emails for a week. I have to pay the bills." All of that stuff has to be dealt with, and I can't get into a creative space if I'm thinking about that. For me, smoking is a sentimental ritual. Come in the studio, put on some music, just have a little bit and get into the world of color and symbolism and form. It might be a crutch. I don't know, but I do think it's a way of shifting my mind slightly so I don’t think about all that other stuff.
What does your artwork say about the direction the world is headed?
Oh, that's a really good question. Most of my art involved this uncomfortable intersection of nature and culture. This show is more personal, but I'm realizing it's the same. Any pain experienced in the world, we also experience in our own lives. Any kind of destruction of the environment, or even a mass shooting, we all experience it. This universal problem of animals being disrespected, people being disrespected and everything being used as a resource will destroy us as a species.
We need a shift where we see everything having its own consciousness and feeling. I don't know what kind of shift that's going to take, but I try to remind people that there is still intense beauty and intense love and intense vibrations. I live up in the woods now. I live amongst nature pretty much full time, so there's a lot of plants and mushrooms and things creeping into the paintings now. I want to remind people that we can't lose our relationship to nature. That's the most important thing we need to remember as humans. At the end of my life, I would say we need to remember that we are a part of nature.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.