The Underworld coming to the Surface

 

Cameron Stalheim’s quest for finding his identity as a gay male in a Midwestern American state of South Dakota is the inspiration for much of his art work.

From a young age he was faced with a difficult reality that he had trouble identifying with. While Cameron was growing up it just ‘wasn’t the right thing to be gay,’ he felt.

Stalheim’s artistic upbringing in a home where yet another art project was always in progress, gave him the tools to eventually deal with an identity crisis and express his own truth.

Cameron’s latest project, a graduating thesis at the Maryland Institute College of Art, is a thirty-foot long sculpted merman. The story of how this breath-taking sculpture with the features of adult film star Colby Keller came in to existence is truly a modern day fairy-tale.

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Stalheim gave us the exclusive on how it all happened:

“So I was on Grinder, a social media app (phone app to meet people), and I was talking to this really beautiful man, I didn’t know anything about him. I was asking if he would like to model for a piece for me, so we exchanged contact information.”

Cameron was planning to use the man as a model for another sculpture he was creating, but those plans fell through.

“A couple of months later I was actually, watching porn, and there he was, the beautiful man. It kind of blew my mind that I had been talking to this porn star. That is kind of crazy…”

I was in complete agreement with Cameron, to which he replied:

“Well it gets crazier, (one day) I was running over to my friend’s house and I actually passed him on the street, the same guy.”

It seemed as though all the stars were aligned to have this project come to realization.

For Cameron this man was no longer a fantasy or a sexual object, but a real human being.

Cameron explained that as soon as he saw his sexual fantasy running casually on the street the ‘sexual object’ that he used to view Colby Keller as suddenly vanished.

As a very creative persona, Cameron has always been attracted to mermaids and mermen because they are traditionally considered to be the symbols of seduction.

The combination of his experience in real life worked well with the idea of creating a sculpture of a dying merman, which was based in mythology.

The work is an interpretation of his experience meant to question human bounds of sexuality within the real and imagined.

The size of the sculpture represents just how significant this experience was for him in real life.

To supplement the income needed for this large project he opened a Kickstarter account. The work he put into it quickly paid off.

The Merman Kickstarter project has been extremely successful; Cameron has been able to raise over the asking pledge of $5,000.

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After reading about all the possible linear interpretations of the sculpture, my curiosity was piqued and I just had to find out more about the different themes of the project.

Stalheim: “I am interested in gender roles and the myth between them. I think it is a myth. That is why I included the vaginal looking, the reproductive system of the man, trying to be anatomically accurate I guess. So (that’s why) I get a lot of questions about how ‘the other’ plays into it.”

Reporter: “So you mean that the gender myth is a division in society, it doesn’t actually exist?”

Stalheim: “Yep, I think so, it has been around for thousands of years. It’s not something that will ever go away. But I would like to believe that we are all equal and capable of anything, but you know I am a Libra.”

Reporter: “In your art work there are themes of sexuality, male and female, what is the significance of that to you? Do you think that sexuality is the basis of reality for most people?”

Stalheim: “I think it forms a basis of identification with oneself and I think that identification helps us navigate through the world. I know how I will interact with a heterosexual man is going to be different than how I will interact with a woman or a homosexual man. How I perceive myself… And vulnerability I think plays into that. It also defines how we perceive the world.”

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Cameron Stalheim’s struggle with his sexuality is evident in all of his work. The work is relevant and easy to identify with because many young adults have faced the same struggle or at least know someone who did. 

So how did it all start?

Stalheim: “My mother was an art teacher so we were always doing arts in my house, so it was a very natural thing for me to get into and I excelled at it at school. It has always been there for me. Working for myself as an artist was a natural calling.”

Reporter: “What was it like growing up as a gay male?”

Stalheim: “I had a good childhood, a great family, very loving, but it was a very much of a wrong thing, it was not the right thing to be gay. You feel bad about yourself and you try to deny it and I felt a lot of anxiety about people knowing that I might be gay; there was a lot anxiety about having to do a lot of interactions.”

Reporter: “How old were you when you came to the realization?”

Stalheim: “I came out of the closet when I was maybe 18, but I am sure my family knew ever since I was little. They did not seem surprised, they were just happy that I was finally able to talk about it.”

Reporter: “You tell me there is a big difference between how it used to be and what it is like today. What is your perception of the world today in terms of gay rights?”

Stalheim: “The world is just constantly changing for the better. I think it is way more accepting, people are not afraid. It varies by region, but I still think it is always improving with gay rights and gay marriage.”

Fortunately Cameron is right, while there are still many cultures that are homophobic, most of North America seems to be slowly accepting the possibility of a non-traditional family structure based on ‘the other’ sexual preference.

Art is a great tool to question the constraints of modern reality, which Cameron has been able to use very well.

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Cameron’s aura is kind and almost soft to the touch.

My initial impression of him is completely unchanged following a long conversation about his life and artwork. Cameron easily interprets everyday events in a way that colour them in the most interesting light.

A discussion about an online profile versus how one appears in real life leaves me in deep thought. He ultimately questions reality through a simple observation. Then he thinks up a form in which to express these thoughts and feelings. He mixes in a little history and a little mythology and pick out his tools. Suddenly, everyday events become pieces of art, which are dying to get out, be free, and take a physical form.

You can see his individuality with every curve of his sculpture, his life and the pain of feeling like an outsider is evident. The lessons he learned are relayed in words but the difficult feelings remain molded within a beautiful statue.

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In his near future, Cameron plans to continue with his art projects, but first he hopes to create an interior decorating/design company which he will use to sell smaller art pieces for home decoration, created by him. 

I can tell that he is not completely comfortable with the idea of running a business for profit. Artists are inevitably taught from a young age that they are cheating, by trying to make money from what they do.

But to reference one of his merman themes of reality vs. fantasy; he must first have the real financial means to supplement the artistic fantasy that he hopes to eventually manifest.

The support Cameron received after successfully promoting his project on Kickstarter has given him the inspiration to further grow as an artist and continue expressing his individual take on reality.

Cameron is very positive about the future, knowing that there are endless opportunities just around the corner.

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Article By: Anastasiya Jogal