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Picture This

Why We Should All Wander and Wonder With Mike Perry

If you’re a parent and you want to introduce your child to art, it’s sometimes hard to find that perfect combination of optimism and imagination in a single artist. Too often creativity comes in a dark, brooding package. In Wondering Around Wandering: Works So Far an artist’s book by Mike Perry, creativity—boundless, bubbling, beautiful—comes in a cheerful, colorful package. “While my early life was sometimes difficult,” Perry writes in his preface, “I’ve always sought to create artwork that includes a strong upward current.” Hoping to “invoke the solace of dreamspace,” Perry believes that “[e]very one of us has the innate potential to be bright, happy, and complete with sex, laughter, and outward expansion. Galaxies can exist anywhere—this is the universe at its best.” Mike Perry’s visual universe provides pictures to match those words and inspires others to wander and wonder their way to their own personal galaxy.

A designer and artist who draws and paints his way into books, magazines, newspapers, clothing, and sculpture, Perry’s personal religion begins with the hand-made, hand-drawn image. In our age of computer-driven and big-name, outsourced art, Perry’s the Anti-Hirst. “‘Doodling’ is a terrible word for a creative act that has much greater significance,” Perry imagines as one of the tenets of his unwritten manifesto. In doodling there exist accidents and discoveries, the two elements that drive connections and understanding. Perry wants readers of Wandering Around Wandering “to turn each page eagerly awaiting what will emerge and to experience the ping of discovery.” Once you surrender yourself to Perry’s charm, the “pings” come fast and furious.

“One of [Perry’s] drawings is a disarmingly simple set of converging colored lines that may conjure the thought (from a complete idiot) of, ‘I could do that,’ writes friend and fellow artist James Victore. “And yes, you could, if only you were Mike Perry.” A cursory understanding of the seeming simplicity of many of Perry’s images soon gives way to an appreciation of the teeming mini-universes of each work. A surreal drawing of “walking donuts” in colorful, belegged circles “feels like infinity” to Perry, and will oddly feel like infinity to you, too. A landscape composed of cheeseburgers seems childish before it reveals itself as childlike in its creativity and refusal to give in to a reality of cheeseburger-less landscapes. A recurring motif in Perry’s art is the “black hole” trick from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in which a character would create an instant escape route by tossing a black circle onto a surface and diving through. You quickly get the impression that Perry never truly grew up—in the best possible sense of the phrase.

Perry’s combination of cheer and creativity makes him a hard artist to position in the constellation of art history, if you, like me, tend to understand the new through the old. Although Perry admits that one work, Water, Water, Water, “was inspired by Monet’s water lily paintings,” art historical references, hidden or overt, are rare. Just for pure effervescent draftsmanship, I’d connect Perry to alternative cartoonist Robert Crumb, but minus the sex and scatology. For childlike creativity, I’d liken him to Picasso, minus, again, the sex but also the dark knowledge of war. For mind-expanding juxtapositions, Perry makes me think of Odilon Redon, minus the overall creepiness.

Above all, perhaps, I’d paint Perry as a 21st century William Blake, with all the cosmic philosophy, but minus any kind of doctrine. In We Are the Infinity of Each Other (shown above), layers of paint, silkscreen, and resin bubble against one another to create a fascinating multicolored multiverse that, when you see it in person, Perry claims, “it sucks you in.” Perry sucks you in not only with his imagery, but also with the brief snippets of poetry snuck into the book. “The dust of reality travels constantly becoming a part of something for as long as it needs to,” one poem begins, ending, “All it knows is it travels in and out of universes on the back of imagination for all of what is known as time.” Perry updates Blake’s “world in a grain of sand” for the modern age of atoms and quantum physics. But it also harks back millennia to Lucretius, the Latin poet of Epicureanism whose De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”) is suddenly hot once more thanks to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve. Perry, like Lucretius, tells us that we’re just the dust of stars temporarily taking form before moving on to the next adventure, so just enjoy the here and now, because that’s all there is. It’s a deep, timeless thought, especially for a guy who likes to draw cheeseburgers and donuts.

Wondering Around Wandering: Works So Far by Mike Perry is like one big “black hole” trick. It’s a wormhole of escape from the mundane into a timeless place of creativity. Just slap it wherever you need freedom, and slip right through to the other side. There are few artist’s books that you can truly call, “fun for all ages.” I can flip through this book with my kids and revel beside them in the lines and colors and textures and share tales of our making inspired by the images on the pages. Or I can spend some quality time alone with Wondering Around Wandering entertaining deep thoughts of Blake, Lucretius, et al. Either way, if you’re wondering whom you should wander with, you could do much worse than Mike Perry.

[Image: Mike Perry. We Are the Infinity of Each Other, 2011. Paint, 1-color silkscreen, and resin on canvas board. 19 x 25 in.]

[Many thanks to Rizzoli USA for the image above and a review copy of Wondering Around Wandering: Works So Far by Mike Perry.]

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