Interview with visual multi-talent Mike Perry

The View magazine hooked up with visual multi-talent artist Mike Perry, working for clients including Apple, The New York Times, Dwell, Target, Urban Outfitters, Aldo, and Nike. We talk about his career, how he got in touch with creativity, his personal projects, and more.

TV: Hey Mike, tell us a bit about you.

MP: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. The child of Rick Perry and Diane Williams. My parents were divorced when I as 5. My brother and I were raised by our mother. I drew a lot as a child but also ran around in the woods, built forts, played epic games of capture the flag. It was a very free childhood. My mother was the oldest of 8 children and most of my aunt and uncles lived near by. I have so many cousins I lost count years ago. Family gatherings were common, the adults would party and the kids would run free in the wilderness.

School was hard. In middle school I got into trouble. Cleaned up my act and found my true nerd. In high school I started painting and was obsessed. Would hide in the art room during lunch and work. I made over 300 paintings. I tried to convince my mother that I did not need a job because all I needed to do was paint. That didn’t go well. Worked at Blockbuster Video amongst other video stores.

Then Art school. Art school was brilliant! I was given permission to just be myself, make what I wanted, but I was going to have to work for it. I was surrounded by amazing peers. It showed me a community. It showed me the possibilities. Then shot me into the world.

TV: You do a lot of creative things on a lot of different mediums, are you curious all the time, or just get bored very fast?

MP: Both. I LOVE working on 10 things at once. It keeps me bouncing around from idea to idea or experimenting with new mediums all the time. And focusing on the ideas vs. style allowed me to grow and evolve, making discoveries all along the way. I also trained as a designer (which greatly influenced my thought process) so I think a lot about visual problem solving. i.e. If I am going to make this. How should I make it.

In contrast a lot of my work is very detail oriented and takes a lot of time. So I have to contrast the boredom with very focused energy. This is as much about physical space as it is head space.

TV: How did potential clients first responded to that diversity, did they think “jack of all trades, master of none, so maybe he isn’t the right guy for us.”?

MP: I don’t really care. I just try to make strong work that I believe in. Maybe you have to take a leap of faith to work with me but that is what collaboration is. I hope people look at my work and say. This guy can make anything.

TV: You have worked for different types of clients, including lifestyle and fashion brands. Can you talk about a couple of them?

MP: I have been very fortunate to work with some great brands over the years. One of the proudest pieces was with Nike for the NYC Marathon. I felt like I was apart of history. I mean any time a project comes in that I am able to see its place in history I am stoked. Thats my favorite part of working on Broad City. Not only is television a massively defining part of our culture. But TV signals are shot into space and are traveling the universe!

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My most recent fashion collaboration was with Call it Spring. The brief was great. Lets make a line of products. You make some patterns and we will do the rest. With the fashion brands its often like that. I did 2 sweaters with Com De Garçon. They had my book Wandering Around Wondering and wanted to use 2 of my paintings. That was sick!

TV: Can you share about your workflow?

MP: I’m always making work. Sometimes it’s for myself, sometimes its with others. I keep serious business hours and its hard for me to step out for lunch with a friend. Studio time is work time. So when a job comes in, I look at my calendar. Think about how and what needs to be done and decide if its something I want to do. Sometimes the work pours in and other times the streams runs low. Its important to see and observe the flow of the river and use those quiet times to focus on myself.

TV: Why do brands choose to work with you over others? What makes you a good fit with the brand or agency?

MP: No idea. You are going to have to ask them.

TV: How do you describe your signature style?

MP: Happy, Optimistic, Positive.

TV: Did you started your own studio fresh out of college? Always wanted to have full freedom and control?

MP: Directly after college I moved to Philadelphia and worked as a designer for Urban Outfitters. I didn’t even think of going out on my own. I figured I needed some experience. I told myself I would start my studio in 10 years. Then I met a girl and moved to NYC. Not to start my studio, not for work, but for love. Then the work just started rolling in.

As for freedom and control. I think of my job like Spiderman’s motto. “With great power comes great responsibility”. Working full time as an artist is brilliant. But the ins and outs of running a small business are challenging. So I have all the freedom I can handle but I have to be responsible for that freedom or I loose the power.

TV: Like any entrepreneur, you surely encountered challenges when starting out? What were the best learning moments and how did you tackle them?

MP: I still encounter challenges every day. The longevity of running a business is challenging and filled with all kinds of problems you can not even anticipate. You have to play it smart and hustle all the time.

TV: You are repped by several agencies, is having an agent important for you? When is having an agent very valuable for a creative?

MP: The goal is to spend as much of my time making. My agents allow me to do this. They support me and my ideas. They help me pull off things that are bigger then me. It’s beautiful that there are people out their that love creative people so much they will spend their lives supporting them.

TV: Any exciting projects going on that you can talk about?

MP: I’m about to start working on Broad City Season 3! That’s going to be a mind fuck!

TV: How do you relax?

MP: I am writing this from a small cabin in Upstate, New York. I’m sitting outside looking at a creek. My dog Bass is laying in the sun drying out from a morning of chasing sticks in the water. This is the dream. But it has taken me 8 months of hard work to be able to carve out this time to recharge.

When I’m at home in Brooklyn, my wife photographer Anna Wolf and I walk Bass through prospect park. I love cooking dinner. Cooking is like making a painting. You get all of your tools and ingredients out. You have an idea of what you want to make but are not sure how it will turn out. You jump in trusting your instincts all along the way. Then when it done its done.

TV: Thanks Mike!

Interview minimally edited to keep authenticity.

Images are copyright to Mike Perry.

Check out more on his website.