A Million Reasons to Love Cam Parker
Cam Park is a visual artist and muralist based in Tampa, Florida. His iconic mural featuring Lady Gaga caught the attention of the 6 time grammy-winner herself, calling Parker onto the stage at her Tampa concert and proclaiming “Cam Parker, you are the shit!” QCFmagazine went out to Tampa to meet Parker and see the celebrated mural at The Hall on Franklin.
KR: What inspired you to become an artist?
CP: I felt like it was something I needed to do, since preschool it was something that I had to do. It was something in me, beyond me, and bigger than me. It was something I needed so share with the world and when you have something like that you don't have a choice. If you don't obey the gift you get stifled, you get back up - like a zit - you get all this residue build up from not releasing this thing that you had into the world.
KR: How would you describe your style?
CP: A little bit of pop, a little bit of trashy, a little bit of gritty. That push and pull, that juxtaposition, that mix and match of “oh thats a really dirty and gritty and beautiful cold sore” things that are just like thats wrong but right.
KR: What is the most rewarding thing about being an artist?
CP: Meeting people, meeting kids - especially the kids. Kids will walk by when I’m painting a mural and they light up, I’ll hand them a paint brush and I’ll guide their hand so they don’t go crazy and their parents will text or dm me and go “dude, my kid still talks about you three weeks later!” it’s such an impact. Kids are so receptive, they have this alien-like knowing when they walk by and you see them get inspired. Adults will say “wow that's so beautiful, you know I studied blah blah blah” kids are just “I like it ‘cus I like it” they got that knee jerk reaction. I’m not even crazy about kids, but when you encounter those kids that are so open and receptive and inspired it's amazing.
KR: What has been the what you consider the low light of your career? Have you had any setbacks and adversities as an artist?
CP: I have often felt that I wasn’t good enough, that I should be doing something better, something different or more mainstream, something safer. But after I studied and examined those feelings it didn’t sit right. Those pits and dips always crust back up and come to a high because I can’t fake it, that whole safe “I’m gonna do birds in the woods” - not that anything is wrong with that, and if I get a commission to do that I’ll do it but I’ll make it me. I don’t want to compromise doing something that I don’t feel in me, and sometimes I don’t feel like our [LGBTQ+] issues are as well understood or embraced. Queer equality, racial issues, I feel like we [Parker and QCF] are beacons for people who don’t have a strong voice in their sexuality or their origin.
KR: Do you think your sexuality has impacted your career in anyway?
CP: Majorly! I thought in the beginning that it might turn off clientele like “Cindy Jones from down in the suburbs and that I might alienate them simply by being me, but instead “Cindy Jones” comes to me because she knows I can do Dolly Parton and make it hot pink and flashy and poppy and fun and I think that’s the root of what I do. I give people in my work the fun and the end and the whole “it’s okay”. That’s at the root of my work, I don’t give a fuck who I’m painting for or doing a mural for, I want everyone to walk by and react.
KR: There's a saying that goes “ you have to work twice as hard to get half what they have” did you ever feel that as a black man, or as someone in the LGBTQ+ community that this phrase applied to your life?
CP: Whether other people feel like it’s true or not, you always know, no matter what race or orientation you can feel the looks, the vibe, and the judgement. I was raised to work twice as hard, not because of my race or my sexuality, but because you want to show these people that you have good taste, and standards, and that you know what a good quality product is. KR: Why did you choose Lady Gaga is your muse for this piece?
CP: Why not! I approached Alana at Robertson Billiards and asked if there was any wall space. She had already seen my work before so she let me do whatever I wanted. It was something I felt like I needed to “get out of my system”. It felt very, if not now then when, and it happened to coincide with the concert date so I wanted to make all that line up. KR: Do you have any more queer pop culture icons?
CP: As inspiration, and anyone who knows me, know that it's the “queer mecca” people. No matter their orientation, I love Kate Moss - I have her tattooed on the side of my head and we celebrate her birthday like its a holiday. Rupaul. My boyfriend and I love Freddie Mercury so much, listening to Queen albums and roller skating around the basement while growing up, these things are integrated inside of you. I love Gaga, Alexander McQueen, I love Big Freedia, I love anybody who is doing them and not feeling no kinda way about it. You can’t tell them nothing and that’s inspiring at the root of it.
KR: How do you think art can impact and empower a community?
CP: Art and music are universal and a lot of people thing I want them to like it, or buy it or whatever. I want people to just feel something. I want them to hate it, spit on it, love it, want to hug it, but I don’t want people to walk by and just go “oh, that's interesting”. I want to get an emotional reaction from someone. People are under the assumption that good art needs to be liked, but a lot of good art makes people’s stomachs churn.
KR: Do you have any advice for up-and coming artists, or artists who are queer, black, or both?
CP: Don't stop. Literally don't stop. I wake up at - and I’m 34 - at 7 am and even if I don’t know what I'm doing that day, it's that whole don't stop thinking that my parents instilled in me. Don't fucking stop especially if your confused angry or frustrated, that's when the beauty and magic happens. There's beauty in accidents. You gain things when you push yourself past the point of comfort. Comfort is dangerous.
Published on QCFmagazine, the University of Central Florida's only queer publication.