Feeling Buzzed: An Interview With Artist Mike Perry

By Anna Ter-Yegishyan


Animator, painter, and writer, Mike Perry, breaks away from the traditional still life and immerses viewers in buoyant colors and abstract human forms in his new exhibition, Intoxicating Pollen Wiggling in a Moist Journey of Constantly Blooming Tides. The featured image, Melting Pot, connects vibrant, airy bodies together with the use of a brush stroke. His exhibition is available to view in person September 9 through October 21 at Garis & Hahn, located in Los Angeles. Here’s more on what he has to say about his work.


AT: When did you first start painting?

MP: I had an eccentric grandfather who was a painter. I think it was on my fourteenth birthday that he gave me this tackle box filled with oil paint and I was just enamored. I was always into drawing, which felt like an important thing that was true to my being, but painting was just like a fire that was lit, so I got into it really early, really fast. I was really into impressionism and realism. I was a Caravaggio fan, but my favorite painter was John Singer Sargent. I wanted to be able to be that loose in capturing realism.

Later, I went to art school to study painting and quickly realized that it was kind of boring; it felt like all we were doing was still life. I was like, All right, I need to mix this up. I went through the program where they make you take all these different practices and mediums. Graphic design was really compelling because I was using computers and I was working with language. Basically, I was being a creative person and not just forced into making a painting. It was really liberating. I quickly realized that design is just the idea of communicating a solution into whatever form you want it to be in. Sometimes things are meant to be paintings, sometimes they’re meant to be posters, sometimes they’re meant to be books. All these forms have different kind of focal ranges and purposes, but ultimately they’re still coming from the same voice and ideas.


AT: What inspires the wide ranging colors in your paintings? It’s definitely a step away from black and white illustration.

MP: I love color, so it’s hard not to want to use all of it. Sometimes I have to give myself limitations like, Slow down, just focus on the blues today. You don’t need to do all the colors.


AT: On your site I read in your “About” section that the “key to [your] working method is the recognition that art and objects, go through many iterations—discoveries, coverings, uncoverings—until they’re finished.” How many times would you say you edit or revise a piece you’re working on? Including your new exhibition.

MP: There’s a piece in the show that was shown at their bowery spot. It’s called, Learning to Draw a Horse. It started from a sketch in my sketchbook. I did a drawing of the famous painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I really liked the drawing and then I was like, Oh, I’ll just paint it and see what it looks like. I did the painting and I loved the painting and then, all of a sudden after the show was over, I was sitting in the studio and it was just staring at me and I was like, Fuck Napoleon, why is he in this painting? This painting is not about this tyrant. Then I got to paint his character out of the painting and now it’s just a horse running in this landscape. When we hung it in the show, I thought this piece was done. But then it sat and stared at me and I stared at it and we had a conversation and it’s been edited. That’s the best part about paint; you can layer it up. If you want to get rid of something, you can make it never there. Or you can use it as a background, or you can pull and push with the layers and the layering. You can have paintings behind paintings. I think that’s fun because then I can see the process in my work and hopefully people can see it too.

There’s also all of these shingle pieces in the show, these little shingle mobiles. I made the first one because we had an exhibition in Minneapolis. We built a small house, like a one-person house: you go into it and it’s like a little experience. We put these cedar shingles on the roof, but I had painted all the shingles to be multi-colored. When we trimmed the shingles to fit the roof, there were all these little shingle bits and pieces that fell off and they were such beautiful shapes because they were made from the organic nature of the process. These little shapes—we couldn’t throw them away. We held on to them. So they came back into the studio, they sat in a box for 6 months, a year, and one day it was like boom! Mobile, let’s do this. And now we’re doing it. That whole journey started years ago.


AT: It’s really impressive that you’re involved in many sectors of art, including animation, painting, writing, designing, and more. Is there a medium of art that perhaps you enjoy working with more, or allows you more room to express what you want to express?

MP: I think it’s more of a compulsive desire to constantly make things. There’s too many ideas, and sometimes the ideas are animations or sometimes they’re paintings or sculptures. It really just depends on what the idea is. And, you know, I go through phases. I’m definitely really excited about painting right now. Once you get into that groove, you’re just jamming because you know how it works again. You stop painting for a couple of years and you pick it back up and you have to reconnect with how the brush touches the canvas. Animation feels like the most powerful tool because it’s crazy storytelling. You literally tell the story. With painting, you often leave the viewer to try to figure out what the story is. Animation is maybe a bit more straightforward, which is enticing, especially because we live in a world with moving images.


AT: I also feel like we need to address the title of your exhibit; it’s very exuberant and embodies growth. How did you come up with it?

MP: I really like words and I like to write poems and I think making work and showing it is a really great opportunity to embed language. I think even the names of the pieces have their own way of communicating. Intoxicating Pollen Wiggling in a Moist Journey of Constantly Blooming Tides—it’s like the magical moment when the ocean is crashing and there’s all that white, speckle-y foam before it hits the beach. It’s beautiful and crisp. Or the idea of the pollen just floating through the space and floating through the work to hopefully make you feel as if you are a little intoxicated. You are feeling the effects of the color and the energy. It’s a journey kind of title. Where is this and where does it take me?


AT: How is Intoxicating Pollen Wiggling in a Moist Journey of Constantly Blooming Tides different from your other paintings? What is it communicating that your other paintings don’t?

MP: One of the things I really tried to do with this body of art was to not rely on the line and let the paint do the talking. There’s a power to a black line. You can make a drawing, put a black line around it, and all of a sudden, it just goes, pop! It seals itself together. I think that’s something that comes from drawing a lot. It’s really easy to finish a drawing by creating a black outline. I really wanted to try to push myself to see if I could just use the paint to create the dimensions, the shapes, the contours, and the lines without relying on the black line. That was kind of the initial personal brief. But I’ve been doing this kind of figurative, sexy, floral psychedelia thing for a while, so it was fun to take that from the drawings and turn it into paintings and see what that looks like.


AT: Where do you find your ideas for your work?

MP: I’m inspired by everything. The world is a beautiful place. Even within the chaos there’s all kinds of really beautiful things. It’s pretty awesome. I live in New York and I feel charged off the energy of people. I love quiet time but I love feeling an entire community around.


AT: What’s some advice you would give to aspiring artists?

MP: You just have to work hard and hustle. I’m also really into teamwork right now. I think team effort is the way to do it. It’s really incredible what you can do when you work with other people.


Curated by FORTH Nonfiction Editors.

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

© 2014 forth magazine