"The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view."
- Jack Kerouac
The man has got to travel. On his way to Ohio from a trip to the Catskills, Perry stops for gas and calls me from his cellphone. "I'd never been to the Catskills before," he says. "They were beautiful. The rural roads were breathtaking."
Beautiful, yes, but the trip had a specific purpose, too -- a meeting of minds from all over the world. It was an Earth First!
extreme extractive energy summit, during which participants discussed fracking, tar sands, and other environmental concerns.
"Last night, at this conference, a native American guy from Alaska living in Eskimo territory looked at some of my drawings," Perry says. And with this one simple sentence, he conveys his sense of awe of the experience. "It was very intense hearing stories firsthand from the indigenous folks affected by mountaintop removal," he explains. "It was a very special thing to witness. People are trying to adjust to climate change. We discussed ideas that need to happen now for things to change."
Since August 2012, Perry has worked with the activist group, Beehive Design Collective
, a group of graphic designers whose mission is, "To cross-pollinate the grassroots, by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images than can be used as educational and organizing tools."
Which segues neatly into his life as an artist and traveler, faithfully documented on his blog
I spent January in Michigan, mostly working on a couple of illustration projects. I have a studio for the first time ever, finally. There are lots of projects going on with the Beehive Collective. The call of the Catskills placed me in the heart of the beast at an anti-resource-extraction summit of leaders coming together to combat extreme extractive energy projects. It's refreshing to be done with commercial work for a while and back in the territory where my heart and head is. I'm excited to share the projects I completed while at home. More sketchbook pages are being pumped out daily while on the road. Here's a few film photos from Michigantown in January. Thanks for the continued interest and support, I'm tired and spent. It's awesome.
Perry does, indeed, live a full life. He likes to hike, camp, ride motorcycles, read as much as he can, and listen to music. "I'm not into wasting time," he says. "I value my time, and make sure I'm doing something meaningful as much as I can. When you wake up in the morning, you take for granted you have another day to live, but we have only a finite number of days to live."
Here he let slip how many days he's been alive. But I've been sworn to secrecy. More on that later.
Living a full life means constant travel, hopping trains (an activity that frightens his parents), hitchhiking (another source of parental anxiety), spending time under an overpass talking to a rambling stranger, and generally enjoying the freedom that youth and a debt-free life affords. He recently spent time in Alaska working with the National Park Services on a residency in Katmai National Park, and you can see his work from that time on his website.
"I'm free to do all this because I don't have a student loan hanging over my head," he explains. Besides rent, he doesn't have bills (well, except for insurance and the cell phone), and he says he has a super-low overhead.
"You figure out cheaper ways to do things so that you have the freedom and time to learn and figure stuff out, like Thoreau (espoused) in Walden Pond. I have time to focus on things that are actually important," says Perry.
Besides, fun is just so much more satisfying. "What's fun is to see your work do something positive, help someone get through a struggle and show them that they are not alone, that other people have the same feelings they do. It just makes sense for me to do that with visual art."
Perry's projects often have a social commentary, but he also enjoys painting landscapes and other beautiful things. "Because I have an audience, I believe that as an artist, I should take responsibility for my art," he says. "I need to find a balance. I love to make art for fun, too."
Perry's commercial art career began in the tenth grade when his parents hired him for little illustration projects. His father is a copywriter, and his mother is a remedial teacher. In his senior year of high school, he began doing serious commercial work, smaller projects at first, which matured and grew slowly over time.
"It started as a little seed," he says. "It was never an overnight thing. It's been a lot of work, and it took a lot of years to pick up, even though I’m young."
He won't tell me his age. It's nothing personal -- he doesn't tell anyone. "It's not on the Internet, either," he says. "I don't want my age to affect the reactions to my art."
Perry was born in Southeastern Michigan and grew up in Comstock Park. He says that he's been making drawings since he was a little kid, keeping a drawing book and making silly drawings during class. Then in eighth or ninth grade, he decided that if art was going to be his vocation, he had to get serious.
A friend asked him, "What if you stopped watching TV and took that time and practiced anything, like a piano, everyday?" Perry took those words to heart. "I stopped watching TV, and pushed hard through high school," he says. "I didn’t play sports. I participated in student leadership and the choir, but I spent all my other time drawing."
His efforts paid off; he received merit and portfolio scholarships, which covered nearly all of his tuition at Kendall College of Art and Design. But after three years, he decided he'd had enough of formal education. "I just didn’t fit in," he says.
"Besides, a lot of my friends are getting out of college with a huge amount of debt and then are trapped into getting a job to pay it off. That really stifles the creative process. When I was 18, I didn't know any better and thought that going to college was the thing to do. But I don't want to put my stamp of approval on the process. Especially when you're doing something like artwork, maybe the goal is not to make a bunch of money, so maybe college isn't the right thing anyway.
"But I learned a lot going to Kendall. It played its role."
Both parents are supportive of his endeavors, even though they are not excited about his train hopping and hitchhiking.
"The most important thing to me is that I'm giving this my best shot -- to make artwork that has a positive effect, to make the best artwork I can, to do things I like and be ethical about it," says Perry. "I want to keep learning and keep progressing as an artist and as a human being. I would hope that I never stop bettering myself."
Victoria Mullen is an actor, artist, attorney, photographer, and the editor of ROADBELLY magazine. She is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photography by Adam Bird