Going from Studio to Gallery to Permanent Installations
Finding and stepping into Cameron Fuller’s studio in the former boiler house of a pharmaceutical complex under Highway 55 in South St. Louis gave me a new understanding of the importance of the studio – both the artist’s shaping of the space and its shaping of the artist. Cameron built a wall, a door, work benches, and otherwise first turned the industrial space into a studio. Then came the tools, the paint, construction and other raw materials, a ramp for his motorcycle, and glass cases for his smaller dioramas. Cameron’s time both organizing and creating in his studio has served him well. I’ve been in the studios of more famous and more seasoned artists but this studio drove home, for me, the importance of a space where the artist’s imagination is equipped, nurtured, and freed.
A taxidermy coyote in a winter starscape scene is the first thing I notice; then a face on slanting door. On the left are remnants of a large animal diorama dating from when Cameron was one of three artists chosen from hundreds of applicants for the Great Rivers 2010 Biennial at CAM, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. A baby fox bought on Ebay resides in a crystal cavern. A ’72 650 cc. Yamaha with a drilled backing plate for the drum brake and fabricated, laced on side covers dating from Washington University grad school (MFA, 2007) is parked inside the studio under a wooden lettering that spells out “transparency”.
On a work table, Cameron shows me and photographer Paul Neuenkirk the model for his commissioned ceiling piece for P.S. 316 – a new elementary school in Queens, now under construction and due for completion in 2014. “The concept drawing for the piece changed when they lowered the ceilings from 20 to 12 feet,” Cameron noted. “The idea is to create a grand space for a reading area outside the library where students can look up and experience a moment of wonder. This is a model of the aluminum frame which will be filled with colored panels; light fixtures will be colored with theater gels inside between Coroplast (a corrugated plastic material) and Plexiglas. The colors will be a range of blues and blue-grays to give the impression of a cloudy sky.”
Cameron got the commission after an initially-accidental exposure to the managing director of Theatre East Theater Company. The director who also works with the School Construction Authority office saw his work through Blackstone Gallery on Ludlow, on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and requested images for the Public Art for Public Schools database. When selected as a finalist, Cameron presented his work to a panel. “Most of my work before this was temporary,” the artist told me, “so I had to plan work that would have a 40 to 90-year life span.” The first proposal was not accepted, but Cameron was invited to submit for the reading room project, and was chosen for that:
“They selected me a year ago to make the full proposal for the project. For the past eight months, I’ve been working with a project team — people from the School Construction Authority, Public Art for Public Schools, and Percent for Art – three agencies that work to place art in public schools in New York. It’s a challenging process. As an artist, it’s like being a contractor – budgets, proposals, and feasibility – a completely different way of working than I’m used to. But it’s exciting that placing work in public spaces might actually be a way to make a portion of my living working as an artist.”
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Cameron pointed out that since earning his MFA in 2007, he’s been exhibiting regularly with no expectation that he could support himself as an artist; he has held adjunct teaching positions at Webster University, Washington University, and worked as a visiting artist. He was making top hats for another artist. “Two years ago, I built the circus wagon on wheels (13 feet high) outside as the beginning of an idea. It’s called Where My Heart Will Lead Me. Instead of making art for galleries, I wanted to make a road show, something nostalgic and functional, some old-time entertainment. The interior of the wagon presents a way of seeing the inside of my process. I’ve exhibited this a couple of times, including at CAM. I was interested in how we as a society create culture. The idea formed the beginnings of the “Institute for the Perpetuation of Imaginative Processes” which included the cased pieces here and a large diorama. The 2010 diorama for CAM included deer, coyote, fox, rabbits, birds in trees –“it was the idea of going into a fabricated world of your imagination.“
Cameron has also been collecting photos of disasters and representing them as framed objects: “I believe that we can really only measure our successes by our failures, so I am fascinated by the fact that these documents demonstrate how short-lived these moments of failure are.” The artist related that he grew up south of Olympia, Washington and spent a lot of time on the Olympic Peninsula where Northwest Coast Native American art was everywhere. “I am intrigued by art that plays a functional role in society. The objects I’ve created here are my memories of the pieces I saw growing up. We also made a video of Sarah (artist’s girlfriend) doing a Thunderbird dance in homage to Edward Curtis’ film In the Land of the War Canoes.”
“The only way you have any longevity as an artist is if you do it because you really love it,” the artist observed. “After five years of doing a show every two to three months, I decided to reward myself. This is my meditation space. Like Brancusi’s, the studio becomes a space unto itself.”
Cameron’s website is under development. If you are interested in more information about his work or the Institute, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His solo shows include Blackston Gallery, NY and the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts and the Philip Slein Gallery Gallery in St. Louis.
by Jan Castro