Pre-pandemic, Camilla Byrd was working full time at a St. Petersburg cafe. In March of 2020, she found $50 worth of forgotten oil paint in a wayward closet.
The 29-year-old painter never looked back.
“Oil is what I’m going to be using for the rest of my life,” Byrd said. “I’m just passionate about it.”
Having taken a few art classes in high school, Byrd painted for fun and worked with acrylic paints over the years, but the habit never stuck until the quarantine blues teased it out of her.
“It’s hard to consider myself an artist, even though I’ve always worked on artsy things and such,” Byrd said. “I guess this is the first time I’ve taken it seriously.”
Less than a year later, Byrd is working as a professional artist, creating whimsical oil portraits and surreal living room sketches 30 hours a week.
“In March I was having a bit of an existential crisis,” Byrd said. “I’m close to 30 now. I have nothing to lose, so I just went full-fledged at it.”
Her first oil painting, titled “A Nightmare Within a Dream,” is draped in blue with nostalgic undertones. Nearly a year later, she’s still working with human subjects, typically people she knows, to create oil-on-canvas pieces that reflect realistic human emotions in surreal environments.
Tropical fruits suspended in the air, a thoughtful woman lounging in outer space, Byrd blends real life with fantasy, while holding on to her subject’s “reality.”
“I’ve been influenced by painting in the early 1900s where a lot of portraits show people for what they really are,” Byrd said. “You take a picture today and it’s all like, ‘Smile and pose.’ I like a more undoctored, candid self.”
Byrd is inspired by the intense, slightly exaggerated portraits of Frida Kahlo and Lucian Freud, and her oil-on-canvas portraits reflect that.
Currently, the artist is working on making her pieces more affordable, on a much smaller scale.
Five-by-seven-inch paper paintings of fancy living rooms and extravagant wealth fill her working space at the moment.
“I’m obsessed with painting interiors,” Byrd said. “Another thing people seem to like is vacation-themed cards – I don’t know, it’s funny what people like.”
The cards range from $15 to $40, an inexpensive addition to an original art collection.
“I just want to stress how attainable I think art should be,” Byrd said. “Not everyone can afford huge, expensive oil paintings.”
Following her recent debut in the art world, Byrd’s next series will hone in on gender politics and emotions. She’s named it, Do You Want to Be Right or Do You Want to Be Happy?
“I have a few friends I want to shoot and paint,” Byrd said, speaking artistically, of course. “I know them, and I know their personal stories.”
Most recently, Byrd showed her work at Gulfport’s First Friday Art Walk and the young artist plans to continue showing pieces at the monthly event, as well as at the 2020 SPC annual Juried art exhibition at the St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus.
camillabyrd.com or @mr.camillabyrd on Instagram