Those who embrace the creative life know that making art is essentially a soul/one-off endeavor. Sure, you can rub shoulders with other types of creatives and influencers at openings to make connections, but before you can get your work recognized, you have to do the work. It’s you, the brush (or the pen or the charcoal) and that blank canvas or slate. Intimidating.
No one knows this better than artist and Springs resident Mark Perry, who has painted most of his adult life and is currently showing his first solo exhibition at the museum titled Points East—Montauk/Miami at the Coral Gables Museum in Coral Gables, Florida, through November 2. The exhibition features 25 works from different series (from abstract to realism and an installation) by Perry, who says he finds inspiration in the surrounding landscapes, whether in the east or in Florida.
Perry and his partner John McGovern (who owns an M&A firm, as well as East Hampton Wines & Liquors at the One Stop mall in Springs) spend a lot of time at their home in East Hampton, near Three Mile Harbor, and during the winter months, in Miami, in their South Beach condo.
A self-taught artist who grew up in Rhode Island, Perry is featured in Hamptons Artists: The Current Wave (2020), a book collecting portraits of folioeast artists and their studio life in the East End. He studied portraiture and nature drawing in the evening division of the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1980s and open drawing at Spring Street Studio and the Society of Illustrators, both in New York. In the 1990s, he worked as a draftsman and painter in the architecture and fashion sectors for 15 years. His solo exhibitions include the Surface Library Gallery in East Hampton, Ille Arts in Amagansett, the Quogue Library in Quogue, and the New Century Gallery in New York, and his paintings are on permanent display in the collections of Memorial Sloan Kettering Nassau Concourse and NYU. Langone Art. Collection.
Perry’s exhibition at the Coral Gables Museum is an exciting step in his artistic career, not only as his first solo exhibition in a museum, but also because it also presents his first installation – composed of colorful and repetitive patterns painted on suspended plastic sheets that allow the viewer to browse and experience the art up close.
The thoughtful and persistent Mark Perry paints every day, but he graciously took the time to talk to us over the phone about his life, work and solo exhibition.
Mark Perry talks about Points East—Montauk/Miami
Did you always think you were going to be an artist?
I did it, because I was always considered one of the most talented people in my class in elementary school – I grasped that when I was a kid. I’ve always dreamed.
I took life drawing lessons as a kid, then after high school I needed to get a job, so I took a drawing program and did it for a decade – while taking life drawing lessons on the weekends. Then I took a portrait class at the evening division of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) working with RISD professors privately on weekends.
It bothered me in my youth that I had no formal education, but I worked with a lot of people back then who resented my feelings about it and I remember one of them m just said, “Mark, you don’t have to go to art school to be an artist. So it kind of stuck with me when I was young.
Why didn’t you have formal training in art?
I went to a very good artistic high school; they were known for their art programs, but I just didn’t have the confidence I should have had… not blaming them, but there were a lot of upheavals at home that bothered them. And back when I started drinking when I was legal… I knew what I wanted to do, I persevered, but financially, I didn’t think school was an option.
I know a lot of people who went to art school and sort of broke down in adulthood so that doesn’t really mean you’re going to carry on – I kept that in mind too .
How did your art develop?
At first my roots were more traditional in wanting to be more of an academic painter; I really felt that was the basis for an artist, to have that. I did portraiture for a while; I concentrated a lot on the faces as well as the figure, mainly in charcoal, pen and ink or graphite.
I didn’t feel ready to show any work until I was in my 40s and you know everyone said early on, ‘You gotta show, you gotta show’ and my instinct was, ‘No, I’m not not ready”. and I think I was right. You have to listen to your inner voice, you know.
I also got sober in the early 90s from alcohol; I quit drinking overnight so my life really improved at that time… I could deal with things. I worked a little and studied shiatsu for about a year; I had put the painting on hold… I think it was around 2003-2004. And then I met John.
Tell me about John.
John and I met in town – I was about 47 at the time and was coming to see him here in East Hampton. We were seven months apart and we were developing this relationship, and one day we were out east and he said to me, ‘Are you going to paint again?’ and I thought, “Yeah, what am I doing, why am I waiting?” and I just dove into it.
In 2019 John took over an M&A company…he’s doing well, he’s really grown the business…I think more importantly he’s the chairman of the board of Project Most (in Springs), the after-school program that actually thrives on John and his board members.
Do you consider yourself an abstract expressionist?
I’ve always been told, “You have to choose a path – abstract or representative.” Over the last decade I’ve accepted that it’s not my way…some artists get stuck in that. I happen to do both.
I did three new paintings for this museum exhibition, and it was one of my strongest (representative) works of its kind… I just approached it very mechanically and it still had life when it has been done. …I’m still learning, which is a wonderful thing. I also did two abstract paintings for the exhibition and that’s a direction I really want to go. I did a lot of small works on paper, and called them my woven paintings like brushstrokes that simulate weaving.
How did the museum exhibit in Coral Gables come about?
Friends of friends sat on the museum’s board; they were visiting here, and I brought one to my studio and…he really liked my work, so he came back about a week later with another board member. I thought it was just going to be part of a group thing and a week later they emailed me saying, “Mark, we’d like you to make a proposal to the board…” I I had a week because a board meeting was coming up and I really kicked it off and submitted it. And they all approved of it – it was like a unanimous thing, which for boardrooms is pretty amazing.
Explain the title of the show: Points East—Montauk/Miami.
It refers to Montauk and Miami connections. Miami was built and designed by this guy Carl Fisher in his late teens and twenties and there was this huge hurricane that wiped it all out. But in 26 he came to Montauk and he hoped to make Montauk the Miami of the Northeast, but the hurricane that wiped out Miami also wiped out his fortune, and he couldn’t get people to support him, but he started – he built the tallest building in Montauk (the Tower).
The museum had that story in mind and they offered it to me, and I loved that story, but my story with Montauk and Miami is purely creative – (two places) where I hang out.
When people respond to your work, it should be satisfying.
Yes it’s amazing. I went to the Coral Gables Museum for their first Friday in September. I was in the room with a lot of strangers and I was overhearing the conversation…I heard one person who was very dismissive and I thought, “Wow, I’ve known great artists who got fired folks, so far it’s up to me to get upset about this. (Laughs)
But at the same time I heard different people expressing their incredible and positive feelings about the work and my installation in particular – many people were very moved and surprised to love all the work that is in the exposure. “It could easily be three people.” I like it, I don’t take it as a flaw or a problem with someone’s work. I have different visions and I see a coherent nature there and other people too. You can’t please everyone, that’s the beauty of it, you know.
Points East—Montauk/Miami, paintings by Mark Perry at the Coral Gables Museum, runs through November 2 (coralgablesmuseum.org). For more information on Mark Perry, visit markeperryart.com.