|September 17, 2011 | ART||Posted by James Watkins|
“Dear Sir, I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom… I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy…I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire. I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.”
These excerpts from a letter, sent from prominent American intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman after the publication of his now fabled poetry book ‘Leaves of Grass’ in 1855, may seem like a dramatic way to start an article about a visual artist, but the quality of Pat Perry’s work, and the appropriateness of the apt phrases allows the sincere sentiments to all ring clear and true: “free and brave thought…large perception…the start of a great career” and perhaps most fittingly, the words: “fortifying and encouraging” – because this is exactly what Pat Perry’s work is, encouraging. It encourages people to live, to break free of routine, to submit to serendipity, to breathe fresh air, to not only look…but to see, to ride motorcycles at 100mph, to take risks, to make friends, have fun and go on adventures, to follow their own path, to immerse themselves in unabashed expression and to refine our gifts and talents in a playful, positive way, with unapologetic enthusiasm and unadulterated ambition.
As you pass through Pat Perry’s vast and varied collection of creation, his elevated sense of aesthetic, his penchant for hyper-surreal imagery and his powerful imagination becomes quickly and steadily apparent. Some artists confronted with such profound ability spiral into whirlpools of reckless, self-destructive abandon, as they toil with their talents in a melancholic maze searching for meaning; Pat Perry does the complete opposite to this, and channels his expertise and harnesses his energy into a vivacious life-style dedicated to liberating experiences and reflective self-expression.
His photographic portfolio looks as if Kerouac’s On the Road and Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had a love child who rebelled against his parents’ overbearing literary influence and grew up to be a photographer. His blog boasts a collection of photographs which most dedicated documentary photographers would be proud to call their own. His photographs are made all the more impressive by the facts that he shoots on 35mm film cameras, doesn’t really consider himself much of a photographer, and most importantly, his work with a camera is only a precursor to his truly outstanding work as an illustrator and painter.
His photographs reveal an insatiable desire for experience, a bohemian bond to vagrancy, a willingness to relinquish himself to the unknown and the ever-evolving pantomime of characters the road provides for the intrepidly inclined. Instantly nostalgic, they are capsules of time that breathe a life of their own – they exude charm, provide glimpses into the sublimity of nature and freeze candid moments with both friends and strangers, whilst displaying a youthful innocence coupled with a discerning aesthetic eye for composition. Devoid of conceit, they achieve all this without the slightest suggestion of elitism or arrogance…it’s as if he wants his photographs to be your friend, whilst perpetuating an old-fashioned American spirit, which is becoming harder and harder to find.
His visual art, in short, is world-class. Many artists plug away for years and never achieve the same level of skill and eye for minutia he has acquired at such a young age (which he enigmatically prefers to remain vague, describing himself only as a ‘youngster’). His numerous sketch books reflect an active and observant mind, soaking the world up like a sponge before masterfully squeezing it out onto his pages via a pen or pencil. An overriding sense of quality pervades his portfolio; his work emanates a sense of craft, with the ability to flutter between varying artistic styles on a whim. Showcasing his talents through various artistic mediums, he exhibits his borderline savant-like skills with a camera, fastidious ink/pen work, surreal ballpoint pen masterpieces, life-drawing with pencils, elaborate paintings, design and digital renderings.
Pat Perry’s work is an obelisk on what at times starts to feel like a convoluted and flat contemporary art landscape. His work achieves exactly what art should do and what a lot of artists have forgotten: that art should make you feel something. He relays his physical world through his earnest and honest style of photography, and opens the windows into his imagination for us to enjoy with the most basic of instruments. His work is showing us that there’s a whole world out there if we’re brave enough to see it and limitless universes within our own imaginations if we have courage and believe in ourselves enough to explore them. He inspires us into real and present thoughts about where we’re at with our own lives and what we’re doing to make ourselves happy. In a world where a lot of peoples idea of expressing themselves is changing the channel on their TV or updating their Facebook status with an inspirational quote off the back of a Hallmark card, Pat Perry’s work and outlook prompts the viewer to “look at the world in a different more beautiful way” and serves as a timely reminder that our lives, friends, family and freedom are all precious gifts, that only a fool would squander.
Words: James Watkins
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you live? How old you are? What do you do?
I am a youngster who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am a illustrator, painter, traveler, and dreamer. Most of my time is spent working on artwork or exploring.
Your website/blog suggests you travel around a fair bit and exhibits a myriad of styles and artistic approaches, including photography. How do your travels influence your art? What do you love about photography and do you use your own photography as reference imagery?
Yes, the last two months I have traveled through around 20 states, rode freight trains over 2,500 miles, and hitchhiked the rest of the way. Traveling is the best way I’ve found to liberate myself from the illusions of my own small life. To grow as an art maker, I must grow as a person. To grow as a person, I have to toss myself into the unknown! What I love about photography is its ability to describe the tone of a certain moment in time, similar to the way music can. I use my own photography as reference imagery all the time. I don’t consider myself to be an excellent photographer, but I have always been compelled to record the more special people and moments I encounter.
Can you tell us a bit more about your train-jumping exploits? What techniques do you employ to avoid detection?
I hopped freight trains this summer in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Train jumping is uncomfortable, dangerous and highly illegal. There are pros to traveling this way though. What I love is traveling through areas unseen by highway travelers and many spots that are passed by in time. Riding trains is hard but you have lots of time to learn about the countryside and learn about yourself. There are many things I do to avoid detection but for now those are secrets of the craft.
Why do you prefer to shoot on film?
It captures color and light in ways that digital cameras do not. I also like the process of shooting film and excitement of anticipating how the photos turned out.
Your portraits reveal characters of life with earnest faces and natural expressions. What is your approach to portraiture photography?
I am no fancy photographer with special tricks. I just let people be themselves for the most part.
Most people’s idea of the States is fat people, McDonald’s and overbearing foreign policies. Your photographs depict a romantic, poetic and beautiful America oft forgotten – what do you love about living there?
I love America’s scenery and history. I am inspired by the landscape and by the hardworking people I am surrounded by. There are good people here and bad people here, just like everywhere in the world. There are good parts here, you just have to seek them out.
What tools of creation could you never do without?
Paper and a ballpoint pen.
What music do you listen to whilst you draw/paint?
All sorts of music. Lately I have been really enjoying old bluegrass and blues from the 30′s and 40′s era. Musicians like Dock Boggs or Skip James. I also have been recently listening to Mutual Benefit, Woods, and Spencer Kingman.
Do you express yourself through any other creative mediums?
Mainly I make 2-d artwork of some sort. Other than that, I hope to one day make a film of some sort.
What are you trying to achieve with your art?
A connection, and a spark that may encourage people to look at the world in a different more beautiful way. I want to bring happiness to people as well through aesthetic enjoyment. I’ve always felt something inside me that is hard to describe, impossible with words. I try to pull that out and expose it through art. Whether I’ve been successful with that is debatable.
The sheer size and quality of your portfolio suggests a much older artisan at work. What are your very earliest memories of drawing? / Can you describe the development of your art from when you first started creating, to now?
My Dad would draw me monster trucks when I was an infant and I would get to color them in. As I was a young child, I continued to keep drawing trucks, machines and all sorts of vehicles. I drew all through grade school and high school. I am actually still quite young. I always made art, but started doing freelance illustration work while working as a designer at a web design firm. About a year and a half ago, I quit the design job to make art full time and haven’t looked back since. I try to step my game up with every new body of work, and I think my work has changed a ton. The concepts are becoming more personal and philosophical than in the beginning. My craft I hope has improved as well, I am much more focused on painting than ever before. I am still settling into exactly what types of paintings I want to create.
A great deal of your work is painstakingly detailed. What state of mind do you enter whilst involving yourself in your elaborate works? Is it a meditative, cathartic process for you?
Art is an escape in a way, but it’s also the outcome of many of my most personal, complicated, and contemplative thoughts, especially more recently. I do feel that drawing is meditative in the sense that it is part of my routine and I need it to stay sane. Lots of times it kills me to sit there and draw all the details of a particular piece, but just like running, it is a satisfying accomplishment when it is all said and done.
What makes you laugh?
Good storytellers, like my old friend Tyler Jaynes. Also Tim and Eric or any really swell internet memes.
What have you learnt from your anatomic drawings? How does drawing nude models from life allow you to develop as a visual artist and help you in other areas of your work?
Drawing the human anatomy teaches you how to draw what people actually look like instead of what you assume people look like. It’s a challenge drawing the figure from life and it can never be perfected, so you always can learn something.
How do you feel about digital enhancement of sketches and to what extent do you indulge in digital work on your pieces?
I draw all my work by hand, but I often color pieces digitally. I like artwork that is done somewhat by hand because the imperfections show honesty. There is digital artwork that I think is neat too, but usually my own taste leans towards less digitally created work.
What other visual artists do you feel inescapably influenced by?
A friend of mine, Corey Best. We often use the same materials and processes, but our art is distinctly different. As for contemporary artists, Sam Weber, James Jean, Vincent Hui and Tomer Hanuka are the master illustrators.
You did an illustration for the ‘Transmetro Art Book’. Can you tell us about your favourite comics and your involvement with the book?
I am not a huge comic follower to be honest. Any true junkie would put me to shame with comic knowledge. I have always enjoyed comics and the art that goes with them. My favorite comics? Anything by Anders Nilsen. As for the Transmetropolitan art book, I was invited to be a part of it and contribute a piece, which I gladly did. I am honored to be part of such a legendary occurrence.
How would you describe your personality in five bullet points?:
Well ,right now I am:
What ideas/concepts are you working through at the moment?
I have written some words and ideas that I would like my next body of work for a show to revolve around. I also want to compile the art, photos, and short selection of words into a book in the next year or two. I am pretty excited to try to find a publisher and do that.
What advice would you give someone who knew nothing about drawing?
Practice until you pass out, and have fun doing it. Carry a sketchbook with you to write ideas down and draw on the go.
Can you recount your last interesting dream?
I barely ever remember dreams. About a month ago I dreamt that I was riding in a car with my grandpa, and he was driving out on a nice vista over a large lake. He took the turn too wide and we drove the car into the lake, then I woke up.
When are you at your happiest?
This summer, I was happiest laying on a train in the middle of the black night, chugging through Virginia. I had my sleeping bag out laying on the metal where I laid looking up at the treetops going by and stars way up above. I was all alone in the darkness listening to the thundering train take me far away.
What is your ultimate goal with your art?
Capture that feeling that I can’t describe, and share it with others. Work hard, and make authentic and sincere artwork.
After all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
I hope I treated everyone with kindness and honesty. I’d like to be someone who even gives strangers the benefit of the doubt. I want to listen more than I speak, and make good decisions even when it’s hard.