Mike Perry knows how to fill a page--and beginning this week, he's filling a 2,800-square-foot exhibition space at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The Brooklyn-based illustrator and designer, frequent Dwell contributor, and MCAD graduate arrived in Minnesota last week and began unpacking his crates of drawings and sculptures--and even a miniature house--and started setting up his solo show, Lost in the Discovery of What Shapes the Mind, opening Friday. Associate editor Miyoko Ohtake spoke with Perry by phone as he was hanging the first pieces in the exhibition space.
How did this exhibition come to be?
You mean how did I score this? I went to school at MCAD and came back to do a talk two years ago. Afterward, I went out to dinner with several faculty members and said, "I'd love to do a show," and they said, "Cool, let's make it happen." Two years later, here we are.
The school's been really excited and I'm super-honored to be exhibiting the first solo alumnus show they've ever had. I'm trying to make it as big as possible for a good homecoming experience.
Have you done a solo show before?
Yes but this is definitely the biggest: It's 2,800-square-feet, which is a lot of space. I've done solo shows in Portland and New York. The New York show was basically in a box, because you have to roll with the punches and that's the space New York offers. The same with Portland; it was a very tight-squeeze. It feels really good to push myself to not just make flat work for this show, though, so I've been pushing sculptural objects. I have all these ladders jutting out of the walls. One is five-feet in dimension. You can't do that in a space where you have only eight-feet across; No one would fit in the gallery.
What other three-dimensional works have you made for this exhibition?
There are the crazy ladders--one of them comes out of a painting. We're also building a house. I do drawings of houses a lot, which probably started when I first worked with Dwell. The style of house I draw came from an assignment Dwell gave me and I latched onto it. For the show, we've built a 12-foot tall by six-foot-by-six-foot house with a shingled roof. It totally looks like one of the drawings; it's cool to see it come to life.
Is the show all new work?
It's about 95 percent new work. There are a few screen prints from older shows that fit in this exhibition, but I tried really hard to make it as much new work as possible.
How many pieces are there total?
There are about 40 mono prints and original drawings that are 18 inches by 24 inches. Then there are three large 50-inch-by-60-inch drawings. There are a bunch of large canvases that are 10 feet by 15 feet and some light boxes that are three feet by three feet.
The scales change a lot throughout the exhibit. There are shelves I'm installing that are filled with object-y things--things you find in the world but that if you look at them in the right context look like art objects. There's this whisky that I drink and the bottle is really beautiful. I just put a flower in it and put it on the shelf and it fits into the curation of the drawings and work. I'm trying not to be trapped by just drawings. I'm trying to build a world in which, like the title of the show says, you get lost in as you walk in. You can go inside and outside things, sit down, touch objects.
Speaking of the title, Lost in the Discovery of What Shapes the Mind, where did that come from?
When the exhibition was confirmed, I just started making things. Then--you know how memories pop into your brain and you don't know why?--I remembered this experience when I was seven or eight years old. I was walking through the woods with my grandmother and we sat down on a pile of rocks. She picked up a rock and said, "You never know what you'll discover when you flip over a rock." She flipped hers over and it was encrusted with all kinds of fossils and gems. I did not understand what was happening; I thought she was this magical being.
I started to think about that memory and how you can get lost in that but how it also really shaped who I am. I tried to think of that experience as something important to me and to travel through it and make work that comes from that and similar kinds of memories.
When did you start preparing for the show?
Really only about two months ago. Life is hectic and busy and then all of a sudden I was like, "Shit, I have two months to do this." I stopped everything and have been working 15-hour days everyday for the last two months. It's been awesome, though, and that schedule makes it really easy to get lost in it; you have no other choice. My brain was going to explode; I had to get this stuff out.
What goes into creating an exhibition and also designing the space?
A lot of thinking, drawing, doodling where things could go and hoping the drawings work out in the physical space. So far, everything in the initially sketches have been fully realized and feel right. There's a lot of production: the house had to get built, the ladders had to get built. There will hopefully be a mobile. I tried to build a miniature one in my studio, and I realized it's super-hard to do. Hopefully it'll work out in the space but if it doesn't, I'm not going to stress out about it. I have an adaptive idea if it doesn't work out.
Man, I wish I could make it to the show.
Come on down. It's going to be a party.