Getting Uncomfortable with Camille Rose Garcia and Dr. Deekay
at Corey Helford Gallery
Through June 16
By Evan Senn
As if my childhood nightmares had come to life to seek me out and take me back to my nine-year-old nightmares, a giant glowing tooth hums and hovers over a pile of black glittery pus—obviously left from its excretions as it waited for me to arrive—and beckons me closer with a kind of candy-coated sparkle and hum that it knows I can’t resist… This creation stands tall in the center of this pristine space, welcoming me and making me uncomfortable. As I walk around the larger-than-life-sized molar, I notice its roots are more like claws, and its black excrement shifts and moves with light. Approaching the backside of this nightmare tooth-shaped guardian, the real terror appears—the surreal and horrific Dr. Deekay has colonized the tooth’s cavity, making himself at home inside the saccharine sweet weakness of the damaged tooth’s previous owner. Glittering and maniacal, Dr. Deekay stands still, fooling the passersby to distrust their subconscious as he glows with candy-colored luminosity and a grimacing glare that is both hypnotic and terrifying. This is your welcome party to “The Wonderful World of Dr. Deekay.”
“The Wonderful World of Dr. Deekay” is a glance at the created universe of Pop Surrealist artist Camille Rose Garcia, for her new illustrated book, The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay, and upcoming stop-action animation film based on the story and art. This surreal and dystopian world blends the beauty and colors of 1960s psychedelia with surrealism, wasteland fairytales, and the horror of dentistry gone awry. Based on a horrifying personal experience with dental work and a bad reaction to drugs administered in concurrence with this dental work, Garcia used her strange and frightening visions to create another world, full of magic, ugliness, and creativity.
The exhibition at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles includes a huge sculptural tooth with a maquette from the film inside of it, as well as 36 new paintings, 40 framed original sketches, puppets, a short stop-action animated film and a new mural on the gallery’s wall. Simultaneously, Garcia’s long-awaited 200 page illustrated book, The Cabinet of Dr. Deekay will be published this summer, in conjunction with this exhibition. The almighty tooth sculpture and the stop-action film were created in collaboration with Martin Meunier, known best for his animation work in Coraline and James and the Giant Peach.
Garcia is one of the foremost Pop Surrealist artists working today and has created a legacy of magical visual creations, inspiring and engaging people from all ages. Her eerie and seductive compositions are often focused on beauty. “One of the biggest challenges for me, and within this particular gallery show, is that this particular story isn’t really about beauty,” she said. “It’s really more about ugliness, hidden ugliness and the horror.” At her core, she is a storyteller. In every facet of her amazingly creative brain, she tells stories—whether it’s through her visual expressions (she has exhibited paintings and illustrations at galleries and museums all over the world) or her textual masterpieces (her first graphic novel, The Magic Bottle was a huge success). “People respond to beauty, and I think that’s, conceptually, a very interesting thing to observe,” Garcia continued. “To look at the ugliness is a lot harder. So how you present a story that contains facets that are horrifying and ugly, but making it approachable, [is challenging].
Growing up as a child of a filmmaker and a muralist, her art was fueled by grand narratives and artistic impact, alongside the constant popular culture of nostalgic animations of Disney and Fleischer. “I feel like I’ve always kind of been a frustrated storyteller in that my favorite thing to do a lot of times is to make little characters and think about their stories and their little world,” Garcia said. Drawing inspiration from her family history and the beauty of iconography and the art of symbols, she finds solace in the intersecting of stories, history, metaphors and ideas. “I think that’s why I have so much interest in fairytales. I like this idea of a layered kind of symbolism repeating over time. Like my ancestors on my dad’s side are Yaqui Indian, and they have all these folktales and stories that they tell me that kind of overlap with other cultures and their folktales and fairytales.”
With reference to “medicine pies” and the “Gargantuatron II” machine, Garcia pulls her audience into this world as if they were living in it. Characters are frankensteined from a variety of sources, and the almighty powers—The P.O.D. (Party of Destruction)—in this world are clearly plotting against the public, with large lists to abolish all cats and re-program the youth and erase the past. The color palette is pleasantly disjointed from the energy of the content, bringing a sweet, stereotypically child-like vibe to an otherwise very sinister environment. “I really tried to keep it on that edge of uncomfortableness,” Garcia explained, “where you’re like, ‘Okay. Am I in an ice cream parlor or am I in a hospital and I’m just hallucinating?’ So, this idea of slipping between realities was very important. And I think it also is a good allegory for reality.”
In this exhibition, we only see key parts of the story through her concept art and illustrations from the book, but the detail in her writing fills in the gaps we don’t see at first with incredible detail and passionate conviction to this horrendous and hypnotic place. With undertones that seemingly reference Kafka, Orwell, Kubrick and Roald Dahl, Garcia finds an impressive balance representing a kind of social commentary wrapped in an ice cream-coated dreamland, sometimes nightmare-ish, sometimes whimsical and friendly. “I kind of really like the idea of this being almost like a social commentary novel, but kind of disguised as a fairytale picture book.”
The world of Garcia’s Dr. Deekay at Corey Helford Gallery transports you to a world that is all too familiar but so beautifully strange that you don’t want to leave. In this created world, she has found a way to reflect select parts of our reality to show the extremity of progress, and uses metaphors to comment on possible futures. The hospital is sort of the symbol for the entire modern world,” Garcia explained, “and it’s like a matrix you can’t get out of. And, there are these overlords who are kind of trying to change society, and they’re using the hospital to change people. So there are all these sort of undertones of The Metamorphosis or 1984, but with some Willy Wonka kind of stuff throughout.”
The magic that Garcia has to offer the world is undeniable, and her skill and commitment to her creativity inspires others to imagine a better place. “For me, it’s always about this idea that magic has to exist in the world,” she explained. “…It is possible to live in a world that is a little bit more magical, a little bit more colorful, a little bit more beautiful.”
“The Wonderful World of Dr. Deekay” is on view through June 16, 2018
Corey Helford Gallery
571 S Anderson St #1, Los Angeles.
HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday: noon to 6pm