Four You Gallery’s latest show is a presentation of work by American artist Camilla Marie Dahl called Over The Hill. Constructing melancholic reflections on the human condition, Camilla works across painting and sculpture to address humility and the innate human desire to control, contain and manipulate the natural world. Completely beguiled by these contemplative works, I chatted to Camilla about her inspirations, Camilla’s approach to her work and, inevitably, what Camilla got up to during lockdown.
Gallery Girl: When did you know you first wanted to be an artist?
Camilla: I don’t remember realizing or deciding at any point that I wanted to be an artist. I loved creative writing and painting, so I attended a liberal arts school where I could pursue both and, at some point, the art practice overwhelmed the writing practice. The more mediums and materials I became invested in, the less time there was for anything else—I was consumed. All I wanted to do was continue making art, and so I didn’t consider doing anything else.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspiration from everyday life. I’m often struck by peculiar lighting situations, where ordinary objects cast long shadows, giving the object a mood, personality, and story of its own.
The works in this show are inspired mainly by my childhood town of Cornwall, Connecticut; they draw from the rolling hills and hay fields, and from my many years as a lifeguard at Cream Hill Lake. Last fall, I had the impulse to paint the hay rolls that I’d seen while visiting my parents in Cornwall. I’d grown up around these hay rolls, but it was like seeing them for the first time—they had so much attitude, with their slumped forms and sweeping shadows, and the afternoon light made the mountains glow red behind them. So I just had to paint them, and that’s what sparked this series.
You paint and sculpt, and the two mediums seem to be quite different. Can you tell me about this duality in your work?
While the materiality and processes of sculpture and painting appear unrelated, for me, the mediums continually inform one another. Sometimes I’m working on a painting, and I imagine what that subject would feel like as a sculpture, or vice versa. You’ll notice the figure in the painting, “Collection Day,” for example, assumes the same pose as that in “Roadblock.” The painting came first, which then inspired the sculpture. Similarly, shortly after I began painting hay rolls, I started sculpting them, too. I have yet to use any of these hay rolls in a completed sculpture, but the mere act of sculpting them has helped me to better understand the forms, and they’ve become useful as models for paintings. So there’s a continual dialogue between these two-dimensional and three-dimensional ways of working.
I also like the idea of these paintings providing context for the sculptures. They don’t act as literal backdrops for the sculptural works, but instead help to flesh out the world in which these pieces coexist.
While a lot of contemporary art being produced right now seems to be futuristic and looking towards technology, yours almost (to me at least, and sorry if this is a misinterpretation), looks back to a simpler time. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think what you’re picking up on is a sense of nostalgia that, I agree, is present in the work. Because the works are meditations on my childhood town of Cornwall, there’s an inherent desire to return to a place less busy than and far removed from life in New York City. I’m not a city person—I like the open air, and I value seclusion. So, I don’t think the work is looking back to a simpler time, so much as it is looking, with longing, to those calmer and quieter places that aren’t so loudly impacted by humans.
What did you get up to during lockdown? How did it affect your practice?
I was living in Brooklyn, finishing up my MFA at the New York Academy of Art when the lockdown began. In need of space to work, I returned to Cornwall, where my parents still live. There, I was able to use my father’s studio and MIG welder to work on a series of bronze pieces that I had just received back from a foundry in Colorado. So, while my studies and painting practice were interrupted, I was able to spend the first two months of lockdown working on the bronze pieces in this show, and fortunate to spend time in the very place that I was referencing in my work.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I’ve never tried to plan too far in advance, and right now, it seems all the more difficult to even attempt to do so. But my general plans are to continue working in New York for another year, or two, or three, and then, eventually, to move somewhere far less populated, where I can live and work with ample space.
Camilla Marie Dahl: Over The Hill runs online with FOUR YOU GALLERY