I have been a huge fan of illustrator Mike Perry since I first met him on a visit to London in 2009. He gave me the greatest pack of iron on stickers and believe it or not I even still have a few of them left. He is a prolific designer and artist. From pen, ink, paper, collage, paint and pencil he creates these brilliant joyful paintings, illustrations, sculptures, murals, animations, patterns, clothing and prints.
He also has an impressive amount of zines and books under his belt, including the cheekily titled Handjob – A Catalog of Type, Pulled – A Catalog of Screen Printing, Wondering Around Wandering, Over and Over – A Catalog of Type and a book about his most recent journey into the world of drawing nudes, My Mother Caught Me Doodling.
Mike Perry photographed by Backyard Bill
Mike has worked across a wide range of clients including Apple, Nike, Urban Outfitters, Channel 4, PlayStation, The Guardian, Ace Hotel and The New York Times and is a consummate collaborator with the likes of Nike, Jim Stoten, Converse and Anna Wolf. He also once organised a 24 hour Draw A Thon and a Get Nude Get Drawn live nude drawing event. He never seems to stop creating and wants 'Your eyes to dance' while he explores his place in the universe.
I had a chat with Mike recently about his beginnings as an artist building a drawing den out of cushions, his 4th grade crush, getting arrested, doodling nudes, wandering around wondering, his brilliant kaleidoscopic animation work with Broad City and the very tropical soundtrack to his life. Photos by the super talented Backyard Bill.
Let's start with your beginnings as an artist. Was their a lot of art in your house growing up ?
There was not a lot of art in my house growing up. A few posters my mother had framed here and there. But for the most part I never even noticed that it wasn’t in my life. I just made things. It seemed pretty normal and I did it a lot.
My favorite days were when I pretended to be sick and my mom would let me stay home. She was a single working mother and (from what I hear on the news) times were different, so even at a young age I stayed home by myself. I would build a fort out of the couch cushions, gather all of my art supplies and just watch TV and draw. Still one of my favorite activities.
Mike Perry's studio by Backyard Bill
What kind of journey did you take to become the artist you are today ?
So the journey started with me just being a kid with an imagination. Having fun in art class and drawing a lot. My mother always supported my work. She saved the first two drawings I ever made. She said she was blown away by the fact that they were not the scribbles I should have been making for my age as they were figurative.
Then I had a teacher who changed my life (as many of them did). Her name was Ms. Zalanski and I had her for 4th grade. She was young and creative. I had a huge crush on her, just being around her made me feel amazing. She gave me so much confidence it was amazing but still I just felt like a kid in school watching the clock tick very slowly.
Then when I hit my teens I tried to be cool. I don’t remember drawing. I had a lot of fun getting into trouble which lead to one debaucherous night ending with myself and two friends in jail. One by one my friends parents picked them up leaving me alone contemplating my life. I looked down at the bench I was sitting on, it was covered in names scratched into the wood. I recognized a few of them (fuck). I had to get my act together. So I found grunge music, grew my hair, started playing Dungeons and Dragons and drew, a lot. High school came with brilliant art teachers that supported my every move. Just the power of people believing in you can mean everything, I had that all around me. I could go on forever.
Then I went to art college. And I worked. Suddenly everyone around me was amazing. So it made me work super hard. I wanted to be as good as everyone around me and the only way I was going to do that was to go deep. So I did my school work and my own work, just making all the time. Trying to learn and take it all in.
Can you tell me a bit about the processes you go through to create your work ?
Things are pretty organic in the studio. I make something, it sits around. I make something else. Work is always around me so I’m examining it and trying to understand what it is and what it does. Then I change things, move them around, let them evolve into something else. Over time simple ideas turn into new ideas that take new shape.
I'm constantly trying to understand different mediums so I can continue to grow my visual language. It has taken me ages to understand that what I am doing is not making one single thing but a growing body of work that represents my relationship with the universe.
Mike Perry : Layers Of Colour
You have this great studio space in Crown Heights Brooklyn that you refer to as your ‘science lab’. Has having a big space changed the way you create the work you produce ?
I had no idea how important my space would be to the work I make. But turns out its an essential part my creative process. Its safe, has everything I need to make anything, and inspires me. It half science lab half teenage bedroom. This week has been a bit unusual for me. I just finished a massive project that kept me indoors isolated from the world. So I have been trying to re-socialize. Catch up with friends. Do some thinking. Find my footing.
I loved your Wondering Around Wandering community project. Is community very important to you as an artist ?
Community is very important. I have learned this from living in a city. Simply having to coexist with others really changes your relationship with the world. I get agoraphobic sometimes when I think about how I can’t find a quiet space (which I have found with my studio). But then other times like now, I'm sitting at home in my backyard and I can hear kids at school playing. It reminds you that you are not alone in the world and the work you make is and needs to be a part of the world around you.
Last summer The Jaunt invited you to explore Antwerp. What kind of artwork did you end up creating from your trip ?
I spent most of my time drawing in my sketchbook. Just decadently spending hours and hours on one single page. So The Jaunt put me on the street. Walking around alone. Almost bored, but in the best way!
You have been doing a lot of nude work lately and have just released a great new book, My Mother Caught Me Doodling. Can you tell me about your inspiration behind all this playful nakedness ?
My journey into the nude started with a desire to introduce the figure into my work. I felt like my figures / character drawings were weak. I had ideas that needed characters so I started drawing a lot. I also felt that my drawings of women lacked confidence. So for years I just drew people and they slowly began to come to life.
I was asked by a small UK publisher to propose a book. So I thought why not reveal all of these provocative drawings. It will give me an excuse to organise them. Make more. I was thrilled. Shit hit the fan with the publisher six months later. So the book was shelved until I had the resources to publish it myself. And here we are. There is nothing more powerful then having an idea that 'must exist'. So you do whatever you need to make it happen.
Mike Perry : Garden Party
In your new book there is a note to your thirteen year old self. If you could go back in time what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself ?
Just be yourself and if people are not into it, don’t stress.
Similarly if you bumped into yourself in twenty years time what would you most like to see yourself doing ?
I hope in twenty years time I am still pushing myself to make new things. I hope I'm still walking down the street wide eyed. Still wandering around wondering.
Mike Perry by Backyard Bill
Mike Perry : Follow Your Heart
Mike Perry : Something Incredible Is Waiting To Be Known
You have been doing loads of really great work with the TV show Broad City. How did you start working with them ?
I met Abbi at Art Basel a few years back. Then I got a call from Comedy Central and they really wanted to work with me. I actually had to turn down the project at first. My calendar was packed. Then a month later they reached back out and it was game on. My relationship with the show is inspired. They trust me. We talked about season three a few weeks back. The comments were “Just keep going!”
Finally what do you think is the soundtrack to your life so far !?
Harry Nilsson : Coconuts.
Mike Perry and his dog Bass by Backyard Bill
Mike Perry : Standing Around
Mike Perry and his dog Bass by Backyard Bill