Camille Myles is a multi-disciplinary artist and conservation activist exploring imagery grounded in identity and that reflects our impact on the environment. Formerly an archaeologist and park ranger, her art tells a story that compels self-reflection and points to the restorative effects of nature. In this interview, Camille shares her inspiring journey of how her experience working in environmental conservation has inherently informed her art practice. Learn about the artist's sculptures, paintings, public art, and more!
In my art practice, I’m inspired by the natural world around me and its precarity — constant change and threats to our environment shape how I see the world. I’m interested in imagery and landscapes that remind us that our time on this Earth is finite, that everything comes back to a natural state of being. We all need to listen a little more closely to the pleas of our natural world.
Whether working with reflective materials in large-scale public art projects in sculptural installations or capturing the essence and complexities of a place through painting and drawing, my work is layered with meaning, history and textures. As a conservation activist and visual artist, art that speaks to its environment and draws the viewer in as an active participant, is of particular interest to me. I use elements that combine an interest in the history of the place and its tie to the environment. I like to challenge the viewer’s perspective, incorporating components that appear to defy gravity, trick the eye, and offer elements that are ever-changing. Through reflections and distortions, my work grounds the spectator in the present, encouraging each viewer to see themselves as part of, not separate from, the story it tells. I encourage the viewer to “play” with art.
I’m influenced by other female installation and public art artists such as Geneviève Cadieux, Janet Cardiff, Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Stephanie Kilgast, Hugh Hayden and Mandy Cano Villalobos for their tenacity, strength in messaging and bravery.
I understand you used to be an archaeologist and park ranger. How did your path lead you from this to working as an artist?
I was actually an artist first, then came into heritage conservation after art school. In University, alongside my art studio classes, I took classical studies and was fascinated by Roman and Greek mythology and art history. This drew me to pursuing a career as an archaeological assistant on a dig in England and an internship at ICCROM in Rome. From that moment, I knew I was interested in understanding and protecting our collective past. There was something magical in discovering an artifact buried for hundreds of years, left untouched for so long. I distinctively remember plein air painting all the ancient monuments in Rome and spending hours on the Via Appia Antica roaming and drawing through the ruins. Plein air painting captures the essence of place, binding the artist to that location by memorizing the important aspects of it.
When I came back to Canada, I pursued a Masters Degree in Heritage Conservation and quickly got a job in the non-profit sector, saving built heritage and revitalizing historic main streets. I gained so much from this community and activist work, especially the power of community. After a time, I came to work for Parks Canada and became a park superintendent of a national park and national historic site. Being a responsible steward of the land and our past stories whether intangible or tangible is a big part of me. After having my three children, I realized I just didn’t have the time to work full time as a park superintendent, manage a household and have a creative practice. I felt I couldn’t balance it all and so I made a choice to become a full-time artist in 2022. It was time for me to live my dream.
How does your previous work in environmental conservation feed into your art practice?
Art becomes stronger through our concepts and ideas outside that world, so I pursued my interests to self-reflect. It’s hugely influential in how I express myself with the themes I use and even how I get my ideas in my art.
Part of my practice is to recenter myself through nature and the past by walking through a forest and reading about history when ideas come to me. I’m conscious about my own impact on the world; everything in my practice becomes connected to nature, to the power of growth and finding the beauty in the everyday.
As I’m working on ceramic sculptures I use images that relate to my previous work as a conservation manager. For instance, in my previous life I used to monitor monarch butterflies, which are keystone species in understanding the health of an ecosystem. I use this imagery now to talk about women’s mental health as being key to understanding the overall health of our society as an ecosystem.
I’m always so interested in artists that work in such drastically diverse mediums! Can you talk about the different mediums you work in? Do you consider any to be your ‘primary’ medium?
I feel like an artist’s drive is to be creative and pushing their own boundaries. I’ve always been exploring new ways of expressing myself. Art school was instrumental for me to try different mediums like charcoal, ink, acrylics, printmaking, ceramics, photography, video, wood working, casting, and metal work. You get exposed to all these mediums and then you decide which ones “stick”. For me, I keep coming back to drawing and sculpture. Imagining ideas on paper and then re-interpreting them in a 3D space is what appeals to be the most.
I often sketch out ideas and being intentional about the mediums I use and what they express. For example, I’ve been dreaming of a particular installation using ceramic butterflies filling a room, however I didn’t have a clay studio with a kiln but that didn’t stop me. I reached out to my community and found a friend that was willing to help me with mentorship and sharing a studio space. I usually start with an idea/concept, then find a way to execute it.
I love your watercolor series Crying Landscapes. Can you tell me a bit about this series and the intentions behind it?
I was at an art residency on Vancouver Island in British Columbia surrounded by old growth forests in June 2022. It was my first solo trip without children and it was an opportunity for me to reconnect with myself, my art, and nature. One day, I toured old growth logging sites and I was so struck by the deforestation and destruction that I became physically ill. To recenter myself, I went plein air painting on the beach and saw the landscape in a different way; it was pleading and crying out. I sketched out this new feeling and quickly went back to the studio to franticly paint and experiment with my watercolors on Yupo paper, letting the paint bleed out on the page and dry in unexpected ways. After this residency, I exhibited this work and sold out the show. It was clear that this body of work connected with others, as it helped me. Creating these pieces have become a meditative process that grounds me into the essence of a place. Now, I’m happy to have this collection featured in Art Seen Magazine and works available through PxP Contemporary.
How would you describe your work in three emotions?
Intriguing, hopeful and brave.
What advice would you give to artists that are trying to break into the world of public art?
Practice writing about your ideas by telling a story about a place and why it’s important. Public art can be intimidating in a way but really, it’s about a good idea that is clearly articulated through imagery and writing as well as convincing a jury that you are capable of executing that idea. Like most experiences, it takes time, practice, and repetition. You just need confidence and have thick skin when you get rejections. As a public artist, you spend a lot of time and energy writing proposals without any guarantees that your idea will ever see the light of day. After my two large public art projects, I decided to professionalize my brand to be taken more seriously when I applied to calls. Also, I find it very rewarding to collaborate with other artists as a team in public art projects, like murals and sculptures. This is a great way to gain experience, combine your audiences, and work out ideas together.
Do you have any projects you are working on that you’d like to tell us about?
I’m currently working on my solo show “(RE) Emergence” in the summer of 2023, which will bring together a sculptural installation, drawings, and paintings focused on my transformative and personal journey as a mother and artist. I was happy to receive a few grants to create this new body of work and I have been busy in the studio experimenting with clay and found objects. I’m also going to be at an art residency at MOTHRA, Artscape on Toronto Island, with my three children during March Break. This will be a great opportunity for me to collaborate with them on a new body of work. I do love working with children and I have been offering art classes in my community for about a year now. This may lead to an online offering and possibly a book in the future. I’m always open to new collaborations and opportunities.