justART! Camilla d’Errico

Camilla d’Errico
Words by Alan Ng
Photography by Agnon Wong

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We had a chance to sit down and talk with Camilla d’Errico, a well known internationally artist based from Vancouver, BC. She has brought her artwork to all parts of the world and is dropping by her hometown to launch her latest fall collection at El Kartel. She talks to us about her artwork, her views upon the art scene in Vancouver and future plans.

You’ve created many characters throughout the years. Can you introduce yourself to our readers by listing characters that might portray similar traits that you have in real life? Furthermore, is there one character in particular that represents you the most?

I have created all my characters that represent different parts of me so I can’t really describe just one character in defining my personality completely. Every individual character has an interesting trait. An example would be the character Burn. He’s a 13 year old boy that attacks the machine. He has to battle with this machine because he is imprisoned in his own body. It’s a metaphor which symbolizes a teenager against the forces of their parents. Surpassing who you are. I wanted to explore that as apart me. I created many characters, years before I developed the story. It was when I was still living at home. You know parts of Burn are definitely a mirror of how I was feeling at that time.

Yeah the character himself looks pretty cool and badass.

I always wanted to be cool. I created some characters that had traits that I didn’t have, but wished I had. Burn is badass. And at the end he actually breaks free and exerts himself in a way, which is quite terrifying to everything around him, and most of us will never be able to do that. Most of us have to be reformed as a certain person. When Burn unleashes himself, it’s quite intense. I really envy him in that way.

Which piece of yours was the most inspirational? How did this affect your art style and outlook on life?

There are actually a couple that are really significant to me. There’s one that’s called the “Iguana”, it’s a girl that’s holding an iguana in her arms and have snow leopards on her head. While painting this I was going through a lot. What I didn’t realize was I was also channelling my experiences during that time onto my paintings. Each of the animals represents a story or certain chapter of my life. The iguana represents a cold heart. It was sort of after some heartbreak. There is a lot of symbolism in that particular piece. I didn’t realize it until the piece was complete. When I stepped back I had no idea what I created. But there are other pieces called “No Ordinary Love”. There’s this girl that’s holding a black crow and she’s crying. While I was painting that, I knew exactly what I wanted to express. I wanted my painting to express love. I poured my heart into that piece. I think people can really see that because when I was at the show, there were people who talked to me about how it actually evoked emotions in them. They understood my paintings as if they had experienced those events as well. I think those pieces are the most emotionally inspiring to me.

Art is really interesting because of how it relates to people and tells a story and has a message behind it.

Tell me about the feeling you got when you found out that people love your work, and that you have fans from all over the world

It’s actually something I cannot describe. I think I am a very humble person. I am shy when it comes to that because I get so excited when people like my art. I am very emotional.  I paint because I want to express my life. It means so much to me and it’s really difficult to express in words how it makes me feel when someone comes up to me saying that they can relate to my artwork or are moved by it.

You have fans all over the world; they have done some really amazing fan art. I’ve seen the Helmet Girl fan made helmets. Is there a plan to work with your fans to create an artist and fan based collaboration?

I’ve actually gotten some of my ideas from my fans. I don’t actually get to collaborate with them closely, but they do inspire me. Sometimes, when I’ve met a fan, I would create something that is based on our conversation. The girls that created the helmets told me that next year there will be an army of helmet girls waiting for me.

How long did it take for your fans to make one of those helmets?

It took my fans many months. During the process, we emailed each other frequently. They wanted to know which colors to use, which parts, and the all the details about the helmet. I guess that’s an example of collaboration between my fans and I.

It’s sure good to have you back in Vancouver, welcome home! How’s it like to be back from traveling around the world for various art shows?

It’s really exciting. It’s a little tiring at the same time. Since the past few years, I have been travelling frequently so I haven’t had the chance to stay in Vancouver for too long.  The fact that I get to travel all over the world and experience all these new cultures and reflect where we come from is really refreshing. I am excited to stay home for awhile. In January, I am going to Hong Kong. I am trying to have my characters turn into figures and no body does it better than the Asian style of action figures and toys that they make. It’s unbelievable and I’ve always wanted that.

What have you learned from the many jam packed shows you’ve experienced in various cultures and what suggestions do you have for both artists and event producers in Vancouver? As you know Vancouver’s art culture scene is experiencing good growth throughout the past years but what hints do you have for our city to make sure Vancouver heads towards the right direction?

There’s a lot that we can do that can help us promote the art culture in town. Part of what I have learned from the various cities that I’ve been is that there’s a very strong underground movement. The cities themselves become involved with these events that are being held. When you have Comic-Con at San Diego, it’s like the whole city is alive and everyone wants to be there. They want this culture of anime, comics and movies. They want to celebrate it. When I went to Singapore last year, there were many fans buzzing about the toy and comic show. They held events that honour the artist and the guest and it’s just so moving because you realize they do appreciate the artwork. It’s electric how they love the artist and the culture. I find that Vancouver lacks that in a way. I know that the Vancouver Art Gallery did put on an Anime Show, but what they didn’t do was include local artists. We actually have some huge names in comic and anime in Vancouver. I thought it was strange, because we were in town, and the Vancouver Art Gallery didn’t ask us to be apart of it. I find the difference is that other cities would want to include the local talent a lot more. Some Galleries would even fly artists to their city from all over the world to debut their artwork at their shows. Singapore flew in famous artists to their show. It was expensive but it’s great to know that the fans had the chance to meet them. I would like to see Vancouver hosting a huge show to celebrate the local artists that live here in town.

December seems like a busy month! With the upcoming Clothing Release party at El Kartel, can you tell us a bit more about your new collection? What’s the main theme behind it?

My new collection is winter themed. There will be hoodies, scarves, dresses, and toques. I wanted to do something different. I usually just stick to t-shirts. I worked with the designer MJ from El Kartel and she came up with great colors that really bring the graphics to life. Because it’s Christmas and the holiday is coming up, I wanted to do a bit more of an antler theme. I am excited to see how people will respond to my new line.

You’ve also got a gig up at District 319 “SPECTACTION” where you will be painting live and collecting proceeds to Canadian Cancer Society to support Camp Good Times. Tell us a bit more about that.

This is something that I am very excited about because I am very big supporter of charity. I really like to support foundations that support good causes. I try to do as much of it as I possibly can. I am going to have one piece on auction and I would be live painting for a couple of hours. I was really inspired from doing the Hello Kitty show which was also for charity as well. It’s cool because it’s not common for fans to walk into a studio and watch artists paint and witness the process of art being created. It will be a lounge-like scene. I’ve seen the venue and it’s fantastic. It’s going to revolutionize the way that these charities take place in the city, and it is the first time that the Arts Benevolence League stages it is exciting to be part of the launch of such a cool event.

Artists working towards charity and awareness programs are very meaningful and it’s common to see it in the art community. What do you think artists can do to impact, to influence and to provoke positive change to issues in the world?

I think it takes a lot of exposure. I think that if more people get involved they will have a bigger fan base. I like to include my fans with my art. I want them to understand the meanings behind each piece. I would like to do more projects that benefit animal foundations because I care about nature and I would love to see more attention towards those kinds of foundations. I am hoping that by doing that, other people will actually take notice and also want to participate.

Recently you worked with the “Hello Kitty Meet the Artists” party, what’s the thing about Hello Kitty that you think makes this iconic pop culture icon of Japan so successful?

It took a few years for me to fall in love with it. If you go to Japan and Taipei, you will see that they have it everywhere. Hello Kitty is huge; you can’t to go around without seeing something related to Hello Kitty. I think Hello Kitty represents happiness to the whole Asian culture as well.

Kuro is said to change forms and create situations meant to elicit emotional responses in Tanpopo. Do you know anyone in reality like Kuro?

I think Kuro is one of my favourite characters that I have ever created because he’s such a bad boy. He’s one of those cold characters that are evil! I remember showing it to a friend of mine. He read the second book, because in the second book he turns into the boy. He’s thought he was such a badass. I thought that was so awesome because he’s just this really cool badass character. You have to read it to understand. You would really think that he is a really good guy but then he’s actually the devil. I don’t know any devils in real life so I can’t really base him off anyone.

Poodle from Tanpopo is The Devil’s dog form. His name is Kuro and you’ve also urged your fans to not let his cuteness fool you. Many artists play with the devilish themes. What’s with that in respect to the art world?

I think it is the devil that can evoke many different themes and emotions from people. One time I was asked the question if I thought it was weird to have Satan as the main character! But Kuro isn’t Satan at all.  I think when people explore the theme of the devil, they are exploring their own version of him, not the biblical version. It’s interesting to see the audience and the public’s reaction when they read the books, and their own interpretation of him because the devil is so controversial. Everybody has their own opinion of the devil, much like any thing in life but with him, it brings up so many different questions.  Its my guess that  when artists use him, they are just trying to explore a really cool character who is, quote unquote “Evil”. I am doing something different with my interpretation of the ‘devil’, than what any other artist out there is doing.

“I fear neither hell nor the devil, for this reason is all joy torn from me” is a quote from Tanpopo, having the power to create the direction on where your characters go is definitely joyful, as Tanpopo fights between her mind and heart. How do you select the paths that your characters take?

At the beginning, Tanpopo was just a one issue story, but because of the popularity of the character design, people wanted more of her.  I sat down and thought about what I actually want the character to experience and what she means to me. It took a long time.  It was difficult, and every time I had to create an issue of Tanpopo, it was not easy at all. Since she has no emotions, the only way to inflict emotions upon her is to have them experience very intense and dramatic events. I think literature is the perfect vehicle and the perfect way to express it; it’s the epiphany of drama. It’s been a very good choice to use literature to express her story. In telling a story, you must have a beginning, middle, end and also the climax, and this applies to the entire series, and also to every issue within the series. I am working with my sister AdaPia on the edits of the story, and my friend Stephen Martin as well.  He helps me a lot with developing the story, and the gates to it and how characters progress. I have an end game in mind, now I have to get those characters to that end. It’s actually really exciting for me to think about it because I actually know what I want to do and I have chosen my pieces of literature to express that. I am taking literature from all over the world and I’m even playing with Egyptian literature and poetry. I am not just sticking to Shakespeare; I am going out there to show that there is so much more for people in the world to experience and different ways that cultures can view the theme of the devil.

A lot of your art works have cute little girls with some sort of animal. At first glance, they are cute, but if you look closely, there seems to be something disconcerting about them. In particular, some of them even have animals in their mouths. What was your inspiration and take with these pieces?

What I do to my art is that I put layers into it. Nothing is just cute; it also looks tricky. I never go too sweet tooth. I use a lot of symbolism in my art. Whenever I have a girl with something on her head it’s actually a reflection of her and what she’s thinking. If you study my art, there will be times where you see for example a birthday girl eating a bird. I am not going to say what it is, but I will say it’s not just a cute girl being cute, there’s a meaning behind it, and I really enjoy when people interpret it.

Why does Helmetgirl always wear headgear? And does this iconic helmet give her any powers? Why a helmet?

Everybody wants to know what this helmet means and why I put it on my girls’ heads. In the beginning I couldn’t tell you because I wanted to play with the visual of paradox: a cute organic being in contrast to this heavy, metallic, constructed thing on her head, and yet it doesn’t weight her down at all. If you can think of it as a metaphor of what we are actually going in life, or technology and how we are building it, it’s part of which we are now, it’s on our mind constantly. Or look at the simplicity of it as well: something raw and dirty, and a cute little beauty underneath.

To answer this question that’s been asked by everyone, and even for myself, because I am a story teller, I have collaborated with Joshua Dysart. He and I have already collaborated on a story and we are working on a graphic novel of Helmetgirls. I’ll be able to combine my gallery of Helmetgirls into a comic book and graphic novel and I am very excited about it because the story is epic. It transverses a world I didn’t knew existed till Joshua created it with me. I can’t wait to create this graphic novel. At the same time it is a risk because I know a lot of people have their own ideas about this helmet: why, and what they are. In a way when you give someone an answer to a question, it might not satisfy them, because their idea might be so much more extravagant.  That’s partly why I hesitate to answer the questions about what it means because I can explain what it means to me, but I don’t want to take away from anybody else and what they see in it.

You’ve done many different projects, exhibitions, products and art on various mediums. Is there a dream project that you have always wanted to do but never had a chance yet?

First off the Helmetgirls graphic novel; I’ve been plotting it for years and it will be the crowning jewel of my comic book career. I can’t WAIT for it because of the idea and how passionate I am about it, and at the same time what I always wanted to do was to create fashion out of the Helmetgirls. If I could do anything, I would create a line of Helmetgirls inspired outfits and have a runway show with living Helmetgirls. I have always loved runway shows, fashion and wearable art. If I had unlimited funds and unlimited exposure, that’s what I would do. That’s my dream project: to bring those paintings to life.

Do you have any suggestions to local Vancouver artists, in standard in art? What ways could their artwork be heard and seen?

The best thing to do is just show people your work. You never know what will come of it. Just being at local convections and working with local companies is great, and it helps to build your connections outside of Vancouver too. You never know who’s going to pass through town because our city attracts a lot of people from all over the world. They come here and when they leave they take what they have seen with them.  An example of this is that I have a huge fan base in Australia and I never even been to Australia. We are such an international city, and when you put your art out, people that come by will take your art away with them. If you want to be proactive about it contact galleries yourself; you can easily find contact information online. I wouldn’t be shy about it. Even though I was shy about a lot of other things I was never shy about my art. I thought, “Why not? What do I have to lose? If I think that nobody is going to like it, then why am I doing it?” I said to myself, “I will put my stuff on the chopping block and send my art everywhere, and if people like it, that’ll be great”. I remember when I first started my career and I sent out my promotional material to a lot of people over North America, and you know what? I didn’t hear back from many of them. I only heard back from two or three. But you don’t have to take it badly, you have to be thankful that you got a couple interested!  So don’t be shy about your art. Just get it out there.

Any artist, they are always criticized. What views do you have on that and is there any criticism that you would like to clarify about your art?

In the art world, it’s a touchy aspect for all artists. If someone sees your art, and this is true even for myself when I see other artists’ work, it reminds them of something that they have already seen or something that they have in the back of their mind. One thing that to me is a criticism, is when people will say it looks like so and so. It’s so strange because people just have to relate it with something. On the other hand, other people come up to me and say that my work is very original and have never seen it anywhere before, and I think if you look at it deeply, they are indeed correct; it’s not something that you see everyday. I think that is one criticism that I struggle against and something that every artist does: you will always be compared to others.

What is HYPE?

That’s a good question. HYPE is such a mixed bag because it can either mean that it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think the term HYPE is something that is created by the public and doesn’t have a lot of substance behind it; it’s just the HYPE of it. That’s what it sort of means to me in terms of the literal meaning of it, something that’s HYPEd up and is more inflated than it should be. At the same time, people are really getting behind it, they are excited about it.  I am a Libra so I balance everything in my life. It could be either good or bad. It’s just a word that honestly you give it a meaning yourself, and hopefully however you interpret that word, that word is what it is supposed to be.