Some people complain about not wanting to go out in public because of a blemish, but a one-handed student ceramicist has never allowed any sort of imperfection to keep him from reaching his full potential.
“I was born with one hand, so I have never known two hands,” said Justin Behm, a junior 3D art major. “Art is all about adaptation and problem solving.”
Behm never thought sculpting could turn into a career when he started during his sophomore year of high school, but is overjoyed to be doing something he loves, positively influencing others, and even getting paid for his work.
Although he needs to go about some tasks differently than others, Behm said that he finds prosthetics limiting.
“I had one when I was a kid and I just remember it flying around the room,” Behm said. “Instead, I work with my arm and use it as a hand. I find it much easier that way.”
Behm expressed that it is of utmost importance for him to be removed from peoples’ views of his sculptures. It is his goal to evoke emotion in people with his art.
“My appearance is not a gimmick,” Behm said. “Without physically seeing me, I want to reach a personal place in people when they see my creations. I want them to walk up to my pieces and feel something about who they are and the world they live in.”
Behm works on a lot of coral-inspired pieces and sees coral as a metaphor for new life. He is inspired by life and death and the way people perceive and handle it.
Through his artwork, he pushes both his limits and the limits of the clay.
“The nice thing about clay is that it is forgiving,” Behm said. “I love to experiment and try different things with ceramics to go further with my work. I incorporate a lot of nature themes and am really fascinated with the idea of nature overcoming man.”
For Behm, sculpting is a highly emotional process.
“It is all about transformation,” Behm said. “If I am upset, angry or sad about something, I can direct that emotion into the clay. It then becomes something I can be proud of and I can sell it to bring people happiness. I am blessed because that is something most people do not get to experience.”
Behm puts long hours into his creations to perfect them. He spends a lot of time in the ceramics room of the Noel Fine Arts Center as well as his studio at home.
“I probably work at least three hours a night, but then there have got to be nights where I am working for eight beyond class time,” Behm said. “It probably evens out to be about 28 extra hours per week.”
The hard work that he loves literally pays off when Behm turns a profit for his work.
“I recently sold a bust at Wausau’s Center for the Visual Arts,” Behm said. “I was not expecting it to sell, so it was a nice surprise. There is nothing better than creating what you love and making a living off of it.”
He has also had work shown in the Riverfront Arts Center, as well as in his hometown of Beaver Dam, Wis.
Gallery work is something a lot of art majors do not experience until after graduation, so it is of great benefit that Behm took this opportunity to pursue his dreams.
“Being an artist is a way of life,” Behm said. “You have to be self-directed, and that means getting out there and having a show to get that real-world experience.”
Behm credits much of his success to his classmates and professors at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“I have learned so much here,” Behm said. “There is so much passed on from student to student, and there is a lot to be picked up from professors.”
Behm’s professors are equally as impressed with him.
“Justin is a terrific student, does fabulous work and is a wonderful teacher to others,” said Anne-Bridget Gary, a professor of ceramics.
In the future, Behm said that he would love the opportunity to teach at a college to share his knowledge of creation and adaptation.
“I do not need to be a famous artist,” Behm said. “That is not the goal. I just want to do what I love and share it with other people.”
In the meantime, Behm is working on securing an internship for the summer and launching his website, 5fingerstudios.com.