Husa’s Garden Blooms at Hilde
By Genie Davis
Husa’s Garden is abloom with playful delight and a sense of mystery. At Hilde Gallery in mid-city through October, Camilla Engstrom’s paintings and sculptures are a visual story both feminist and fecund. Using bright colors and deceptively simple shapes, some of Engstrom’s work is visually reminiscent of the paper cutouts of Matisse, both due to the vivid palette, and the forms themselves. The exhibition takes place within the artist’s mythological tale of Husa – the Swedish word for a “house maiden.” In the exhibition, this seemingly enchanted being follows a path of ultimate enlightenment through a variety of dimensions.
Viewers became intimately involved opening night, offered glasses with lenses painted over with floral images through which they could view the work. The artist also presented a performance adjunct to the exhibition with a dance that included her donning a flower-petal frame around her face.
Born in Sweden, the Los Angeles-based artist is nothing if not joyful, and that joy is embodied in the exhibition. Engstrom’s Husa drinks wine, meditates, conjoins with flowers, shares secrets with them, has conversations with Mother Earth, causes laughter, summons lovers, and dances. The color pink is important to both artist and her doppelganger. Husa is an earthy, vital being and a spiritual one. Is she a flower herself? Has she reached enlightenment? Is she enlightenment herself? Is she a plant and human hybrid? A goddess? All of these questions are posed but the answers are for the viewer to decide.
“The truth comes in many shades of pink,” Engstrom writes on the gallery wall, highlighting the fact that the meaning of Husa’s character and the exhibition are both open to interpretation. Also written, haloed in patterned leaves that circle a bright yellow sun, “Better than a thousand hollow words is one dance that brings peace.” Posed in the center of that yellow sun on a pedestal is a small sculpture of Husa, eyes closed, jubilant expression, clad in a leaf patterned white robe. The figure has a position and expression reminiscent of a Buddha figure, she seems blissful, the font of wisdom.
Other images refer to a landscape that Husa resides in. A “Boob Volcano” erupts in one painting; below it, an acrylic on canvas work titled “Hand of Love.” The image here is a curved hand that stretches invitingly, beckoning, infused with a sensuousness that is more than implied. Angled near these pieces is that same hand, this time, holding a carrot – or perhaps not-a-carrot. A rosy “Pillow Flower” arises from a voluptuously shaped pink mound. Only partially visible in a “Soothing Bath” strewn with leaves, Husa floats, her breasts, hands, upper legs and a portion of her face all that’s visible in a milky, opalescent water.
In the oil on canvas work “Above the dark clouds the sun is always shining,” a long haired, nude Husa has a pillow of cloud encircling her neck. She’s cross- legged, and appears to be meditating. Here her depiction reminds the viewer of a Gaugin.
Yet another iteration of Husa appears in “Sun Goddess,” in which her face is now a radiant sun. The circlet of cloud around her neck has gone pale golden, and she sits on what appears to be a red wave, crested in white. A blue sky – a radiant blue – rises behind her, white puffs of cloud caught on waving black arms stretched out like sun rays behind her. Here the rendering is reminiscent of a Hindu goddess.
And so Husa shines: woman, goddess, Buddha, confidant to Mother Earth, friend to flowers and all things pink. Viewers are cautioned when visiting this exhibition: Nivrana may ensue.
4727 W. Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016
Hours currently by appointment in October