Mike Perry

Spiraling Galaxies

Mike Perry is one of the new generation of artists that bridge the gap between commercial and personal fine art work. He draws, paints, and illustrates. He animates. He cuts, pastes, and builds. He creates sculpture projects and installations. He crafts limited-edition silkscreen posters as well as large-scale ad campaigns and curates books and monographs. I spoke with Mike about his creative process, working across multiple mediums, and trusting and staying true to his uniquely inspired vision.

What is your background and early creative inspiration?

It’s really a journey of self-discovery, of the universe. I’m constantly connected to that. It’s not about things, but about ideas, about the universe. It’s been incredible to live not knowing what is about to happen. But it always works out. I’m working on an article now about Ben & Jerry’s for a German magazine, the absurdity of being a creative person.

It’s really that I’m the filter for energy slamming down through my brain and slamming out through my hands and I make something. I’ve been working on a painting for awhile now. It started with me painting circles on a dark background. Then I added different layers and colors and the circles became planets and it was about the relationship of the planets relating in space. And then there were starbursts coming out. It got really dense and I remembered that when you look up at the universe it’s this dense massive compression of objects in space. I realized this piece was called ‘Not Enough Space.’ So the goal now is to fill it out.

As a kid I was super into making paintings, just prolifically making things. I discovered art school as a possibility and fell in love with this idea and wanted it to be something that I did. I went to school in Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was the first big city I lived in outside Kansas City and school and Kansas City were phenomenal.

When I graduated I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had fantasized about working for Urban Outfitters, but it was not in the direct realm of possibility. Through friends I applied and 6 months later I got the call to work with them. I worked there for two years and learned about the practical world of making things. I worked in a small department with a lot of creative freedom. Eight years ago, I met a girl on a photo shoot and quit my job and moved to New York. I got a job at a small studio that was awesome, but not the right fit. Somehow the universe opened up and the phone started ringing and I quit after one month. It’s been a wild ride learning about business and everything you learn if you go to business school.

Did you always trust your creativity or did this evolve?

Growing up, I really wanted to be a painter, all the stereotypes. But I went to school and painting felt so flat and one-dimensional. And I’m at art school, this beautiful time. And I thought I had to do something exciting and challenging. Art school forced me to take classes in the different art disciplines and I had a great graphic design instructor. He explained it didn’t matter what you made, but it was a discipline and it was just to make something in whatever discipline you felt. And this blew my mind. What do I want to make? Painting? Sculpture? An ad? I was blown away by freedom to make anything I wanted. I don’t feel comfortable any longer with title of ‘designer’ but what I took from that moment in school is the principle of what I do and how I work.

You work in design, illustration, bookmaking, installation and much more. How did you give yourself the freedom to work in such an interdisciplinary way?

I hate to say it, but it’s genetic, a chemical thing. For me it’s a force of habit. The brain has been wired to be comfortable with putting things out there. to let the work be itself. But it’s really a constant process. There are so many different things happening all the time. The luxury of having a studio is that I can start one thing and let it grow over the years and pull one thing out of it. I can be massively fluid. I’ve been very observant of my process over the last few years. I thought I was a quick maker, but it’s not that I’m fast. I make some things fast and the real work develops over time while all the little things are being made.

What inspires you?

It’s really a journey of self-discovery, of the universe. I’m constantly connected to that. It’s not about things, but about ideas, about the universe. It’s been incredible to live not knowing what is about to happen. But it always works out. I’m working on an article now about Ben & Jerry’s for a German magazine, the absurdity of being a creative person. It’s really that I’m the filter for energy slamming down through my brain and slamming out through my hands and I make something. I’ve been working on a painting for awhile now. It started with me painting circles on a dark background. Then I added different layers and colors and the circles became planets and it was about the relationship of the planets relating in space. And then there were starbursts coming out. It got really dense and I remembered that when you look up at the universe it’s this dense massive compression of objects in space. I realized this piece was called ‘Not Enough Space.’ So the goal now is to fill it out.

Recent projects and process?

I don't really have a direct answer to this. I would say that my process bleeds from one project to the other. For the most part projects start with an idea and then they grow to their final life. Even then that final life changes into something more or less. I think “What Comes Around Goes Around” is a great example of this. It started with a simple thumbnail drawing combined with me being in a circle stage, and also wanting to tell stories. But now this piece is now been printed on a bluedot chair and lives as a single moment from the greater story. Weird.

You are known, in part, for working with hand-drawn type. What role does this play in your work?

At Urban they were doing a lot of this and I was really into it and it was really fun. There was a 2002 version of the site and everything was my handwriting. I was able to draw type for everything. It felt like a moment in time when this was becoming popular and I realized all my friends were drawing type and this Is when I made the book Hand Job. Then I spent some years feeling like I had to get away from the type thing. I was trapped in the cycle of doing type, type, type. I had to break this pattern. But looking back at my career, it was a blessing to be a guy who was interested in type – so much positivity. You take what you get when it comes. But I’ve been drawing type for so many years that I stopped typesetting and so it is hard to call myself a designer. Lost all those typesetting skills.

How are you hired so consistently for your style?

That was something that was really important to me and that I borrowed from the illustration world. The illustration world is about defining how you make things so people understand why they are hiring you. It ends up being your style or aesthetic, your journey. What I make is about a way of thinking and problem solving and not the style. Styles can change or evolve, but that unifying hand will always be there. I’m the filter or vessel. It goes in straight and comes out a little wiggly.