Pat Perry is an American artist and illustrator based in the Detroit area. He likes to spend his time drawing, painting, listening to music, reading and writing, even when he believes that fundamentally pictures speak louder than words. His street art works are often a mixture of social injustice and his native Midwestern sensibilities.
I connected with Pat via email and sent him a few questions, and below is how it went down.
Hey Pat how is it going? For people that don’t know you or your work, could you give them a little bit of background?
It’s seems polite that I spare your readers’ some time and start with what I’ve been filling up my life with most recently. The play-by-play lead up is already out there on the internet. Over the past months, I’ve been most often in Detroit, breathing life back into a hundred and seventeen year old house that was vacant for the better part of two decades. I lived in a fourteen foot trailer the year prior. When I bought the house, I moved the trailer into the yard while I replaced rotted drainpipes, plumbed bathrooms, filled a thirty yard dumpster, tore down cracking plaster, ripped out rotted carpet, installed flexible chimney pipe through a snaking brick chimney, fixed the boiler, and salvaged lumber to piece together this structure into a home.
The house is standing in what looks like an empty, overgrown field now, but is the site of what used to be a neighborhood block. There were probably twenty to thirty other houses placed tightly together around it, now all gone except for my house. It’s not a stretch to say that people’s memories and dreams are buried all around us; more than just figuratively, in a way that deserves some reverence.
The upstairs of the brick and fieldstone house is my studio where I’ve been painting and putting together a new body of work that’s now in its second year of progress. Besides that, I put new brakes and rotors on my truck recently, no small job counting the disassembly of the front locking hubs. I also tore apart the motor of a 1998 xr400 to rebuild and get running again. I burned all my firewood over the last months of winter, and just got another load to split from some workers who were knocking down some dead trees on my street last month. I planted four apple trees, and am building garden beds this weekend. These are the details that fill in the cracks between the progress with my art. To me, they are just as important as the pictures I paint on sides of buildings and arduous visuals I push out so that people can gaze at them through two-inch squares in their hand.
Besides painting, you write and take photographs. What medium you would like to express yourself with the most and why?
I like painting most because I feel like its healthy to have to go through a laborious and time consuming filter that makes you earn your ideas an audience, proportionally to the time and thought you put in. I sometimes feel a little uneasy about seeking an audience via writing (even in this interview), especially because we are saturated so thoroughly by the facebook rants and clickbait think-pieces and the whole words-on-screens buffet.
A lot of street artists started as graffiti writers, then developed their styles and became muralists. How was it for you starting up and what took you to the streets?
I started writing on trains, because I was riding trains. It evolved from there. The “murals” were mostly without permission, or were DIY for friends until I finally got the proper chance to do some big ones with big boxes of paint and boom lifts and all that jazz in 2016.
Some artists claim that street art and graffiti fall under the umbrella of illegal work, while murals are more commissioned, therefor legal and understood as painting. Do you agree with these distinctions or not? And why?
I don’t have a strong opinion on any of that, or care to pay too close attention to what is named what. I do think its really hokey and a little sad when graffiti’s edgy reputation gets co opted or marketed in “non-nefarious” contexts that feel in a way like they’re compensating for their own lack of identity or imagination.
In your recent mural in Napier (New Zealand), we see you depicting a woman on a boat weaving a tapestry in a polluted ocean. Could you tell us the reasoning behind it? And what message are you trying to convey?
I mulled quite a bit over what I wanted to show. Uplifting, inspirational messages often feel a little empty and condescending. We live on a dying planet. Where going through a period of mass extinction. Shallow optimism nor debilitating despair would have been noteworthy sentiments. It does however, feel like an important time for us to be resilient. I really try to ride the line carefully.
Is there something you wished you did and now regret you never did it?
I need to be better about calling my Mom, and keeping in touch with my sisters.
What are your thoughts about what’s going on in the world: social injustice, racism, the refugee crisis, Brexit, the current administration…
Its nothing new, its not surprising really, but it is interesting how out-in-the-open it all seems now; the world we live in is a monstrous hypocrisy. We’ve got the data on the climate, we’ve got the videos of those cops, and we know the history of this country. We’ve seen the statistics; we know that the rich are richer than they ever have been. Traditional values, pop icons, lifestyle marketing, religion, the myth of progress; all turned out to be illusions, none offer a viable source of hope to my generation, deep down.
None of that’s what’s really knocks me on my knees these days though. It’s more that I always believed that when this moment came to its terminus and the contradiction was visible enough, together we’d rise up together, somehow all holding hands against the unthinkable present. Now that our short chance is upon us though, in the thick of the mess and at a crossroads of sorts, we’re flailing, tearing each other apart. The chemo kills you faster than the cancer. External obstacles, or internal division; pick your poison.
The sheer frustration of feeling mistreated and unheard is impaling all of us in our own different ways, during an inconvenient time when real, thoughtful interaction has never been less of a necessity in order for us to go about our daily dealings. Though empathy seems to be a hot inspirational-meme-story buzzword, several neuroscientists are warning us that the digital natives are apt and proving to be the absolute worst at it. The confluence of several factors are making for isolating times, its overwhelmingly lonely and overwhelmingly loud at the same time.
Your works deal a lot with social issues and current events. Is it a reflection of your interior life?
I think my interior, and personal life are where I find more hope than online rhetoric or overarching, yet often reductive, ideological debates these days over the problems I just mentioned; that’s probably partly why it took so long for me to get these interview questions back to you. Though I think all of us are forced to deal with current events, I try to not talk too loud or too often. I try to do honest work, make thoughtful work, and find some grace and poetry despite the times. Most days, I’ve been trying to pay careful attention to what’s in front of me. I work on the house, and I try to listen to my neighbors’ thoughts and stories about this place. We go get wood and materials from abandoned building sites and houses slated for demolition via pry bar and headlamp. And we only get two channels here; dogs or wood stove. So, in the evenings we spend a lot of time by the wood stove together, and don’t fall into Netflix holes very often. The garden is slowly coming along, and the folks in the neighborhood seem to like the long fence built of old pallets. They’ve been supportive that the house is being fixed up, because most of them seemed to really want a good neighbor to occupy it and live there, rather than a large company or real estate firm scooping it up. In fact, my neighbor Dell sold it to me, even though I had several thousand dollars less to give him than an offer he’d gotten from a big out-of-state investor.
From my perspective, I feel lucky to live here, in a mostly black city with immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and every other type of person the generations before mine tried so hard to segregate and keep separate. I don’t want to live in a world like theirs. I don’t think any of us should have to.
Outside of the creating realm, away from screens, what activities occupy your time? Is it difficult to find a balance between “work” and “play”?
(Already answered in aforementioned responses.)
What can we look forward to seeing from you next? What collaborations, shows or projects do you have planned?
New body of paintings, coming soon.
Any words of advice for aspiring new artists?
Firstly, all the old-hat advice is true. Without hard work and grit, failure is guaranteed, etc. etc.
Second, guard your integrity, and say no to stuff if you feel like it. There will be more chances. Us artists these days have to fight tooth and nail to avoid being absorbed and appropriated in new insidious ways; ways that just reinforce the dominant things that keep our collective boots cemented to the intolerable path of the present. We have to persist with an unwavering stubbornness and at times unequivocal outward opposition. This struggle deeply concerns me, constantly. In past years, it was questions like, “How can I tactfully turn down these corporate clients?”
Now it’s, “Was this mural festival safe to be on the roster of?”
“Who is it for?” “Who are the sponsors?”
“Should I allow myself to be tethered to new vernaculars like “street artist?””
“Am I just inspiring others to be semi-Internet famous artists and voyeuristic tourists?”
The soul endangering threats are constant, and worth nail biting.
And this last question,
“Was it a total mistake to let on publicly that I am disturbed by these questions, all the while knowing that the most fashionable disposition of the past half century has been to come off as having no fucks left to give?”
Thank you Pat for your time, and we hope to see you in our fair city in the near future.