Camilla Engström makes being joyful look easy. The Los Angeles-based artist and newly minted Semaine collaborator was actively practicing positivity for years before the pandemic hit and put her dedication to happiness to the test. To some, her commitment to remaining optimistic might be readily dismissed as callow or simplistic, but in reality, positivity as a discipline is no mean feat. Despite her rosy appearances, Engström has battled many of the same issues as the rest of us due to the world being on hold: She hasn’t hugged her parents for months or been back to her childhood home in Sweden, and she remains fearful of the anti-Asian rhetoric (Engström’s mother is Chinese), that is building to a crescendo in the United States, thanks in no small part to Donald Trump using the slur ‘China Virus’ as interchangeable for COVID-19.
Semaine speaks to Engström at her home in Silver Lake, where she typically starts her day early, before driving to her studio in Downtown LA. “I come in around 8am, I put on some music, and I dance,” she says, adding that if she’s in the mood she’ll record herself and post it on her Instagram account as “a way to get out of my head and into my body.” After that, it’s time to drink smoothies and paint—until it’s not. Engström, unlike many of her peers, doesn’t romanticize being stressed, or overworking: “I don’t push myself to work when I don’t feel like it, so I paint when I want to paint, and after that it’s time to go home or spend some time in nature,” she says without diffidence.
Engström’s paintings are big. They’re also colorful, witty, and infused with warmth. She favors oils over acrylics, stretches and preps her own canvases, and typically works on three pieces in tandem to avoid feeling too precious about any one thing. “It gives me a sense of confidence, because if I fuck one up, I’ve got two others to fall back on,” she says with prototypical levity.
Her purpose is to create art “that makes someone feel good,” which is why she’s not afraid to take a mid-week hiatus if she’s drained, or simply not feeling it. “I want to share the best side of myself through my work, so if I’m not calm and peaceful, and ideally happy, I just rest for a few days instead. I don’t want to agitate anyone with my art, it’s meant to be a positive experience for me as an artist and for those who view it.
”For Engström, social media has been a blessing. Her breakout moment came via Instagram after dropping out of fashion school at FIT in New York and opting out of modeling gigs for big box brands like Calvin Klein and J.Crew. She was broke, but surrounded (and dating) creatives, and decided to try her hand at “this whole being an artist thing.” She came up with a close to millennial-pink recurring character called Husa, (which means housemaid in Swedish), who quickly became an internet sensation and catapulted Engström to fame. “Before my painting career took off, I was posting Husa every day, ” she reflects.
Images by Christine Nguyen
Husa is anti-fashion in the sense of being rotund, brightly colored, happy, and fiercely feminine, and she always appears alongside overtly positive messaging. “Husa is cheesy with cheesy feel-good quotes, and I think people really enjoy her because of it,” says Engström. “Creating her was a practice in positivity for me, and also a reminder to just be joyful and play.” For inspiration, Engström looked to self-help books and podcasts with motivational figures: “Positivity takes practice, so I read about it a lot, and I enjoy the process of actively practicing happiness with mindful awareness.”
Since Engström’s more formal career as a painter has taken shape, Husa has been on vacation, but she’s never far from her creator’s mind. “I have two major exhibitions coming up this year that I’m really excited about. One is in Sweden and focused on landscapes, and the other is in Hong Kong with more of a focus on Husa, because she’s more popular there.” To date, Engström’s painted around 30 new approximations of her infamous icon for the show.
The exhibition in Sweden is a particularly big deal to Engström, though, because it’s the first time her parents will see her work in-person. “My mom and dad have never seen my art in real life, so to have them come and view it will mean a lot to me,” she says, adding: “I don’t think they quite believe that I’ve made a career out of painting yet because they still see me as a struggling artist in a dingy New York basement.” Engström’s mom runs a Chinese restaurant in Stockholm, and her dad approves loans for a bank, so “what I do, for them, is just weird,” she says.
Engström’s prior forays into fashion make her a natural fit for an accessory collaboration—so it was an instant yes when Semaine approached her to immortalize her painting called ‘The Golden Path,” in silk scarf form. “I painted a brighter future, and then Semaine contacted me with the opportunity to transform it into a textile,” she says. “I collect scarves, so it was very exciting for me to make one. To me, a scarf is very intimate—it smells like you and is so personal. I like to wear mine around my neck, or, when I paint, I tie my hair up with it in a twisted bun.”
For those less sartorially inclined, Engström suggests framing the limited edition Semaine x Camilla scarf—which is available now in a very exclusive run of 150—instead. If you’re unable to get your hands on one this time around, (sorry!) may we, in turn, suggest giving the artist and her happy pink ally a follow on social media? If nothing else, they’ll be sure to brighten your feed—and perhaps even your day.
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.
This week tune in as we go to Camilla's Art Therapy. You will not be disappointed, there is a lot of dancing involved!
What does Camilla enjoy on a day off? Tune in and be inspired by Camilla’s favourite streams.
A Touch of Zen
“It’s just visually a very beautiful movie.”
Love on the Spectrum
“It’s a show about people with autism finding love and dating. Coming from a family with autism it’s just relatable, heartwarming, funny. I think everyone should watch it. It’s pretty educational too and very, very funny.”
The Great Women Artists
“I particularly enjoyed the episodes about Agnes Martin, the one of Hilma af Klint, Frida Kahlo, all of them are great!”
"Camilla's Corner Shop"
Camilla's essentials are all about feeling good, and taking care of yourself. Whether its through a massage, fun music, nice scents or a colourful scarf she has made just for you.
"Square of Sunshine" Silk Scarf
Semaine x Camilla Engström x Rose of the Wild Bunch
The Wax Apple Shop
Recylced Plastic Curly Hair Comb
Raw Silk Tee
Hinoki Essential Oil
The Wax Apple Shop
Bespoke Framed 'Square of Sunshine'
RO Frames x Semaine
Earth Friendly Portable Speaker
Color Knob Paint Brush Set
Chinese Hot Pot
Basic Paint Set
Maybe you will recognise Camilla’s favourite places in her paintings. If not you will find nature and colours in both, that is for certain. She also loves to “just spend time in nature in general. Even better to jump in a lake or swim in the ocean. I think it is very healing.”
Joshua Tree National Park
“I think it’s really beautiful at sunrise or sunset.”
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson St
“It has a special place in my heart because I love her work. A warm and peaceful museum. Gives you a closer picture of Georgia O’Keeffe’s development as an artist. It also has a great gift shop and cafe!”
Niki de Saint Phalles Tarot Garden
Pescia Fiorentina, Capalbio
Provincia di Grossetto 58100
“It’s very beautiful and I’m very happy I saw it, because she’s an artist that I admire.A whimsical place located in Tuscany, created by the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. An artistic park composed of monumental sculptural inspired at the Tarots.”
by Celeste Headlee
“How to break away from over-working, over-doing & under-living.”