2009 Visual Arts MasterMind: Cameron Fuller

The taxidermied fox isn't the first thing you notice when you walk into Cameron Fuller's studio. While such a piece might be an instant conversation-starter anywhere else ("Where'd you get that?" "Why do you have it?" "Um, does it have a name?"), it is just one element of Fuller's raucous, glorious assemblage of salvaged materials and works in progress. The studio, located just a shout from the Mississippi River bluffs, is the staging area from which Fuller deploys his whimsical, perception-bending installations, which have graced locales from New York City to Lexington, Kentucky. Locally, Fuller's large-scale creations have appeared at White Flag Projects, the Foundry Art Centre, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Gallery 210 and the Philip Slein Gallery, among other venues.

There's an ephemeral beauty to Fuller's work; much of it, after all, is created with masking tape and will be pulled off the wall and thrown away at show's end. But while this transient quality may make other artists maudlin, Fuller embraces the nature of his work. "I take photos of the installations, and when I look back on them, there's a certain fondness," he says. "It's not like having prints sitting in a drawer, untouched for ten years."

Fuller did begin his artistic career in printmaking, in Washington University's well-regarded MFA program. "Doing huge drawings in grad school naturally led to doing installations," says Fuller. "If you're doing a seven-by-nine painting, you might as well do an installation. Why not draw directly on the walls?"

Cameron Fuller's installations are meant to be experienced, not merely appreciated.
Cameron Fuller's installations are meant to be experienced, not merely appreciated.

There's far more to Fuller's art than its scale. His ability to create jarringly gorgeous dreamscapes out of little more than tape and acrylic — in essence, to make three dimensions out of two — is remarkable. In describing his work, Fuller says that "it's about activating the actual space. There's a warping, a manipulating, that lets the viewer step into a place but be outside of it at the same time."

Fuller took the inside/outside dichotomy to extremes with Out in the Cold, an installation that turned Belleville's Maps Contemporary Art Space into a larger-than-life snow globe; viewers were literally required to stay on the outside, looking in. Fuller has built strong relationships with local artists and gallery owners (including Maps' owner B.j. Vogt, White Flag Projects' Matt Strauss and prominent dealer Philip Slein), and he describes St. Louis as an excellent place to be an artist.

"There is an undeniable greatness to having a studio and great rent," says Fuller, who grew up in Washington state and did his undergraduate work at San Francisco State University. "And there's a sense of community here. You show up at openings, and pretty soon people know you. The art community here makes it feel like you're part of something."

While Fuller does not plan to leave St. Louis any time soon, the outside art world is paying attention to him. Last year the Manhattan gallery owner who represents renowned video artist Joe Sola was in town, attending that artist's talk at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Matt Strauss invited the woman to White Flag, where Fuller was creating an installation for the Fast Times at White Flag group show. She liked what she saw — liked it so much, in fact, that she asked to show Fuller's work in New York. His installations appeared at the Bespoke Gallery this past January.

At 34, Fuller is not yet at the point where his art is his main source of income (he works downtown at Mark Buckheit Art Services, a job that he describes as a nice complement to his creative life). But art is unquestionably Fuller's number-one passion, as evidenced by his frequent shows, by the artistic energy that hums in his studio and by the enthusiasm with which he describes both his own process and the St. Louis art community as a whole. He also collaborates with his girlfriend, artist Sarah Paulsen, whose gorgeous, often surreal animations lend delicate detail and optic depth to Fuller's larger-than-life pieces. The couple collaborated on a piece for the Kranzberg Exhibition Series at Laumeier Sculpture Park (the group show remains on view through September 6), pairing Fuller's circus car installation with Paulsen's animation of an ant carnival.

Fuller laughs when recounting his creation of the circus car; left unattended one day, it became nap HQ for a drifter and his bottle of peach schnapps. Such are the risks one takes when creating life-size, walk-in art — risks that are far outweighed by the rewards of being surrounded by near-magical creations.

While many young artists name-check art-world luminaries as inspirations, Fuller cites folk art and Native American artifacts as touchstones. In these earlier cultures, he explains, art was a part of everyday life.

"There was a point in time when culture was steeped in artwork," Fuller says. "We've become detached from art as a vital force in life — people can go their whole lives without buying a single piece of art."

Fuller's work provides new ways to think about art; his installations are not just to be appreciated, but experienced. "The conversation I want to have is about what art is and what art can do," he says. "I'm not a horribly social person, and art is a way to start conversation. I'm interested in where we are heading as a society, but I'm also interested in creating something lighthearted, something fun, something that reminds people to use their imagination."

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