Artist Mike Perry has worked with clients and collaborators from Comedy Central’s ‘Broad City’ to brands like Ray-Ban. In his 99U talk, Perry offers a glimpse inside his id-driven creative vision, and makes a case for allowing your work to provoke, titillate, and show respect for your audience.
Mike Perry is an artist, animator, creative director, brand consultant, poet, and designer. His work encompasses paintings, drawings, sculptures, art installations, books, murals, all of which are made to conjure that feeling of soul-soaring you have when you stare into distant galaxies on a dark night, when you go on long journeys into the imagination, when you laugh and can’t stop laughing.
The key to Perry’s working method is the recognition that art and objects, go through many iterations—discoveries, coverings, uncoverings—until they’re finished; people do the same until they are fully revealed. He likes to cultivate collectives of celebration, exhibition, and revelation.
So this is Mike Perry Studio. I’m not sure what that means. I think I’m just a dude. I have a studio and I have some employees, which is amazing. I never expected that to be a part of my life. I’m actually currently working on adding an ‘s’ to the studio. So, we’ll see how that goes. This is my office. This is my space. It’s got this—yeah, it’s kind of complicated to see. It’s actually just a normal space; it doesn’t look like this. [LAUGHTER] But, oh, yeah there’s Isam. But you know, it’s definitely like a pretty straightforward, like artist space. We got paint on the floor, and you know, just shit everywhere really. We’re going to go backwards now. Alright, next slide. Oh yeah! Oh, that’s not it. That’s what it looks like in my head. [LAUGHTER] Let’s see I got a better view, oh yeah check this out. I just wanted to do an ease in to the program. [LAUGHTER] There’s my dog, Bass. You know the thing about this drawing is, like, I do feel like I’m able to do, to be all of these people all the time in different spaces, which feels great. I should probably look at my notes [LAUGHTER]
Oh yeah! Oh, this is great, okay. So I’m not embarrassed to say this but, Star Trek: The Next Generation is the best show that has ever been made [APPLAUSE]. Oh, it makes me feel so good to get that reprieve there. So, I actually rotoscoped the opener last year. It just, I don’t know, kind of made sense. You know, when you love something, it’s like an act you learned as a kid. At least I did. You know, I would like draw Looney Toons. I would just trace it over and over again, and then one day you’re just like “Oh, I can draw Yosemite Sam now!” And then, so like I felt like Star Trek would maybe be like kind of a similar thing, like where if I rotoscoped the opening, like it would inherently become more a part of me. And I think it did, actually. I’m not going to dwell on this, but, I fucking love this show. [LAUGHTER]
What I’ve learned, and what I’ve taken away from Star Trek is that, my office is a ship and every single day, I get to my desk which is like my command center where I’m like piloting the ship. And I just travel through time. It’s like I don’t know where I’m going. It’s like every day happens, actually I look at this, this thing I’m doing right now as like an away mission. It’s like “Oh God, I’ve got go back and like write some reports about it” [LAUGHTER] And you know, they’re always a little stressful, but you make it work I guess. I don’t know we’ll see.
But I’m not here to talk about spaceships. I’m here to talk about sexy images. So when I got the contract to do this talk there was a line in the paperwork that said “No cursing” and I was like “Fuck that!” [LAUGHTER] So, I like decided that I was like, “I don’t want to do this if I can’t say whatever I want” So obviously, we got the negotiation worked out and here I am. [LAUGHTER] But this, for some reason, when I was thinking about this and kind of figuring out where I was at with talking to you, and whoever you are. I guess really just talking to thousands of people or something, I remembered this moment of my childhood, where I would spend just a stupid amount of hours just trying to see the pornography in the scrambled television. [LAUGHTER] I mean, it’s like, I feel like, I wish I could do the math on it but I’m going to guess it was just an insane amount of time. But, you know, it’s got to do something to your brain, right? Just trying to see patterns in scrambles. I like to, I didn’t think about that memory as a way of like remembering that I became an artist, but I had that memory and I was like, “Oh that makes sense: I like really fucking complicated things that are really weird and have a lot going on.” So, like I said I’m going to talk about some sexy stuff. You know ultimately, like I wish I was the kind of person that could just make some broad statement about censorship because you know it’s all happening in the world. Everyone’s like talking about it. But, you know, I just, I’m not that person. So, I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to talk about like, you know, me feeling comfortable taking my clothes off. That’s all I can handle. It’s like I can’t do everybody else; just me. [LAUGHTER]
So it’s been a little bit of a journey. In like, I can’t remember the year, but some year like five or six years ago, I had this idea with my buddy Josh Cochran to like use social media and get stranger to come take their clothes off. Like, “Let’s just see if this works!” And all of a sudden we just had like, this just overwhelming pile of humans just like, “Yeah let’s do this!” [LAUGHTER] And it turned into this like crazy project where over the years, I’ve just done like, thousands of drawings of just strangers who have just been like walk into a room like this, take it off. Last year I met this guy, Willy. He was the only male to pose last year, which was weird. But, he walks in, he like came in—never met this guy, this is like first time—butt naked. And he’s just like doing some stretches and stuff. And he’s like, “You guys ready?” And then I’m like, “Yeah”. He sits down, throws his legs up, and just shows us his asshole. [LAUGHTER] I’m like “Willy, you’re amazing!” Like who does that? I’m like, I just don’t even understand, like that takes some, some interesting, [LAUGHTER] psychological stuff. I don’t know. [LAUGHTER] I’m friends with him now [MORE LAUGHTER] which is cool. It’s like, “I saw your asshole!” [LAUGHTER]
But it’s been amazing too because, not only that, but it’s also like the first year there was a young woman who had a fear, like had a pubic hair phobia, which I didn’t know was a thing. And as part of her like coming to terms with her having pubic hair, her therapist suggested that she expose her pubic hair in a public space. [LAUGHTER] So when this opportunity arose, she was like “Hell yeah! Like finally” [LAUGHTER] Because you can’t just do that, I mean you can’t just like, I can’t just like pull my pants down right now. I mean that’s against the rules. But in a safe environment, you can do that. I mean that’s what’s cool about like being an artist and you know, and just like feeling good about comfortable with humans and just wanting them to be themselves. But I’ve learned so many lessons from these things. It’s also accumulated into these epic exhibitions and it’s really fun. It’s like I’m all about drawing, not about selling. It’s about being and spending the time with other artists; spending the time with strangers. And then we sell all the drawings for twenty-five bucks. And then everyone just gets a free drawing! Not free, but you know whatever. Same price, it’s like a fucking coffee in this place. [LAUGHTER]
Anyways, so this was like the beginning of my journey into like nudity if you will. Was like, actually, not just like putting myself out there: getting strangers to put themselves out there. But last year actually, someone from the New Yorker was like super interested in doing a story about it. And they were like “What if I drew you naked and we did a story in reverse?” So, me and the other artists from last year posed naked together for the first time. I will say, it was amazing. [LAUGHTER] Just like naked with your friends in like a casual environment, I mean, come on!
So yeah, I basically, [LAUGHTER] I got nine minutes. So, alright. Yeah, that did happen. So, you know, ultimately I really wanted to learn how to draw people. That’s the inherent route of this desire to see naked people. It’s like, I just want to learn how humans work. Which is amazing because now I can like easily picture you all naked and it’s like really fun for me, not stressful. It’s like so easy. It’s like unbelievable! I can see all of the like the moles and things. You guys look great! [LAUGHTER] Because, it’s just your imagination. It’s like, so easy if you just like go for it. Anyway, so I made this book as like part of the journey into my own kind of acceptance and relationship with sexy imagery. I, you know as a young adolescent, I spent a lot of time besides watching the sexy images on the TV, trying to just draw people. And, I was so disappointed when I did them because they always looked awful. You know, you’re just like “Oh man, I see it. It’s got arms and legs but it’s not quite right.” And I was like “You know what? I’ve got to get this. I’ve got to get this. I can do this! I can draw people.” So I made this book as like this kind of epic yearlong journey of like, just making the drawings that I want, using my imagination, trying to see where it goes.
But all the time that’s happening, I’m also doing this [BROAD CITY INTRO] So, proud moment for me: the FCC, I had to get that approved from the FCC, which I was like, “It’s like fingering the letter A?” [LAUGHTER] I mean come on, it’s like, what does that have to do with anything? It’s an A! And then, that was Season One and then Season Two I did this one which is like, if you look into it, it’s really fun. [LAUGHTER] I really like the top bit, right above the O and the A. [LAUGHTER] And it’s only seven seconds, so it’s like no one gets to see this but it’s all there. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I could watch this all day long. [LAUGHTER]
I’m doing a kids book right now and [LAUGHTER] and you know I’ve had so many conversations with my editor about like “Yo, that thing looks like a penis!” I’m like “This is what everything looks like!” Literally everything looks like boobs and penises. [LAUGHTER] Vaginas too, assholes, all of it. I posted this on Instagram, and it got taken down. [LAUGHTER] I’m just like “It’s drawings! You can’t even see anything!” There’s a little cock in there, but [LAUGHTER] I don’t know, I think it’s subtle. They look like they’re having fun. They’re flexible [LAUGHTER] which is always a good way to like, you know make it through the day. I got no notes for this one. No notes. [LAUGHTER] But this was really fun, and so I don’t know. I’ve been doing this sexy exploration and it’s been really interesting. I got to do a year for Playboy, like a column for Playboy last year which was super fun. Definitely fulfilling like some childhood dreams and goals. Just like that phone call, I was just like “oh finally!” I wanted to make these drawings since I knew what a pencil was.
So this is actually the first piece that I did for them last year. This is my sketch, that I did, that did not get approved. I really like the sketch. I just think that it’s so sexy. But anyways, but then I did this piece and I had to take out the hands in between the butts and the pubic hair, since censorship you know? Anyways, it’s rough. But, I did get to pull this one off, which I was like, I’m like, I am like, I cannot believe I got this drawing published in like a thing. [LAUGHTER] It’s just, so the article is about like how to take a great dick pic, so like, you know, so you need like props, for scale. [LAUGHTER]
All right, what’s next? Oh yeah, here’s another slide. Is that one right? Oh yeah, this one got taken off Instagram too. [LAUGHTER] I don’t understand why. Well, you know it’s interesting. I’ve been drawing all of these people, and they’ve been, you know, having a good time. And I just had this like this kind of realization that I’m going to read this because I like the quote. Drawing people is like fucking: if you’re not careful, you might create a new life. So, that’s my, that would be my big quote for the day. [LAUGHTER] Because like what all of this has done is like lead me to animation. I didn’t know that I wanted to be there. I didn’t know that I wanted to go there. But I know I wanted to tell stories. And, I just all of a sudden, I was like “I’m going to make drawings, and there’s time, just put them together, just,” and now I can like try to communicate with you all on a regular basis via drawings.
This is another. I don’t know, this one. I don’t know where this is going. This just makes me feel good. [LAUGHTER] I know. Just the simple things in life really. I got a dog [LAUGHTER] I got a dog named Bass, who I love. She’s real. She doesn’t drink too many cocktails. She does like to eat pizza, so it’s cool. You know I’m just going to talk about this because I just think it’s really awesome. I was sitting in my backyard and she was sitting on my lap—this was like four or five years ago, and I was little stoned, I won’t lie. She was sitting on my lap and she was looking at me in the eyes. We just made this serious eye contact. It was huge. And then I was like you know what? I’m done eating animals. I just quit. I became a vegetarian because I looked at my dog’s eyes. Isn’t that crazy? You know, honestly, it’s like made me want to like look at horses more, and you know, like get in there with the birds. I wasn’t going to say this but I got to recommend Planet Earth II. Beyond belief. If anyone’s not seen it, you need to get out of here (I mean obviously you should stay here) but it is, it is mind-blowing. It’s definitely the best thing on television. Just about nature and how we’re all just, we’re destroying it.
In the meantime, I love animals, it’s pretty, pretty straightforward. Who doesn’t love animals, right? My favorite color’s blue. This is a little animation. I like this – [VIDEO CLIP] I am the color of the sky. Sometimes I am royal. Sometimes I am baby. I am the color blue. [END VIDEO CLIP] I’ve actually only ever seen that on a really small screen. [LAUGHTER] It’s a bit more ominous when it’s up there like [LAUGHTER] “I am talking to you!” Anyways, I made that for something and it never got used so I just like to show it once in a while because I think that it’s funny. Oh yeah that’s me. I’m going to take off I think. Wow, what am I missing? Have I forgotten anything? No, I don’t think so, [LAUGHTER] Anyways, alright peace out!