34.0522° N, 118.2437° W
‘You walk around and visit every part of the world in an hour.’
Gems in this
Camilla Engström is a Swedish-born artist and sculptor based in Los Angeles. Growing up in both Sweden and China, she has a distinctive view of the world, and has exhibited in galleries internationally from New York and Los Angeles to Hong Kong and Soho House West Hollywood.
Camilla is known for exploring issues of femininity and mother nature in her work, not to mention for performing spontaneous dance routines to an eclectic playlist while at work in her studio. We spoke with her about creative life in Los Angeles, how her environment translates into her work, and a few of the favorite places where she finds inspiration in LA.
On where you grew up
I grew up in a small town in Sweden called Ørebro. It’s the most boring town: very safe, not much going on. You have to seek out adventures there because they certainly won’t come to you. But I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, who was an artist. We would go for long walks where we would have a picnic and draw or paint together. I ended up moving to Stockholm when I was 10 because my parents separated, and my Mom wanted to move to Stockholm so we followed to stay closer to her. I stayed there until I moved and lived in China for a year.
On moving to the USA
I moved to the USA because I got into the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. I wanted to study fashion and couldn’t get into any schools in Europe, so a friend of mine suggested FIT. It was a big move: I had to take language tests and apply to get a visa. I had never been to the US and had never even thought I’d vacation here, let alone live here.
On your relationship with Los Angeles
My relationship with LA is pretty healthy, I think. I have a great community here, and I love the weather. The pollution kind of bums me out, and it’s easy to get sucked in and overworked sometimes, just like in New York. But New York never felt like home to me, even though I was there for seven years. I just feel more connected to myself here in LA, with the weather and being close to nature.
On something unique to LA’s creative culture
People are a little more spiritual and holistic in LA. More connected to nature or the sun, from what I’ve seen in art, and in conversations I’ve had with other artists.
On what’s playing when you travel
I only listen to podcasts when I travel because I use travel as a time to learn and catch up on things that I missed out on because I’ve been busy working. I also find podcasts more soothing than music. It’s easier to fall asleep to someone talking than to music, which I usually use to work.
‘My relationship with LA is pretty healthy... I have a great community here, and I love the weather. The pollution kind of bums me out, and it’s easy to get sucked in and overworked sometimes, just like in New York. but New York never felt like home to me, even though I was there for seven years. I just feel more connected to myself here.’
On a challenge you experienced moving to the USA
I mean, everything was a challenge when I first moved. Like, even the smallest thing was overwhelming. My biggest challenge was to find a community and to feel at home, because nothing here reminds me of Sweden. Everything is different.
On connecting with local culture
Finding an artist studio was what really helped me feel connected to LA. That, and going to art openings where I could meet other artists and people in the community. The openings are easy to find; I could just go online and then show up.
On how LA influences your creativity
Nature plays a big role in my work — the bright colors that the sun brings out in the world. Also, being a single woman in my early 30s is important to me right now. Being so far away from home and my family is something I think about a lot. Even though this is also my home, I still feel like I’m just visiting. I mean, I might feel that way until I die. But specifically, fantasy landscapes show up a lot in my mind when I meditate. Inner and outer landscapes are a theme I’m exploring right now.
On something you’ve learned from life in new cultures
I’ve learned that the colors and visuals change for me, depending on what environment I’m in, and I didn’t really know that before I moved. Like, when I paint in Sweden now, my colors change.
‘I've learned that the colors and visuals change for me, depending on what environment I'm in, and I didn't really know that before I moved. Like, when I paint in Sweden now, my colors change.’
On creativity and travel
I love everything about traveling. It’s such an incredible way to find inspiration. From looking at local art, to the food, the smells, the vibe. As an artist, at least for me, it’s very important to travel. Otherwise, I feel like I wouldn’t be as excited to create. If I feel stuck in one place for too long, it’s almost like I don’t want to paint anymore because I feel like I have no new inspiration.
On where you find creative inspiration in LA
I definitely find creative inspiration in my studio downtown, where I can work and see what my studio mates are working on, and talk to them. The beach, of course, is also a beautiful place to be inspired here. I also enjoy hiking around Griffith Park because it’s kind of an intense hike that I do and there’s not a lot of people, so I have to push myself and I can just be in my own thoughts. Plus, after it rains it gets really green and lush.
On a place you recently discovered in LA
I love Huntington Gardens. You can just feel the love and time they put into making those gardens beautiful — discovering new flowers and plants every time I’m there. There’s always something new. I love reading the names of flowers because I feel like those can awaken new ideas for painting. Plus, you walk around and basically visit every part of the world in an hour.
‘I love reading the names of flowers because I feel like those can awaken new ideas for painting. Plus, you walk around and basically visit every part of the world in an hour.’
On exceptional design in LA
The Getty is pretty cool, architecturally. I still haven’t visited the Eames House, but I feel like I would appreciate that. Of course, the Griffith Observatory is beautiful.
On window seat or aisle
I prefer a window seat when travelling on a plane so I can just pass out and not be bothered.
On one thing to do if passing through LA
Eat tacos and hike to the Hollywood Sign. It’s classic and something you can only do here.
On LA in one word