Kris Perry, Metal Sculptor
4.16.16 Hudson, NY
"There are shapes that I’m drawn to aesthetically; streamline shapes, aerodynamic shapes, car fenders, fuselages, rocket ships, etc. These are shapes that you want to run your hands over. These streamline forms are often a starting point for my work but they are lifeless inanimate objects on their own — beautiful, but without soul."
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KO: Car fenders and motorcycle gas tanks has had an influence on your work. In my opinion they are perhaps some of the sexiest shapes created by man. What are some of your favorite cars and motorcycles?
KP: I have a real affinity for the war-era stuff: the Bugatti Type 57, the ‘40 Ford coupe, old Packards and Studebakers, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion.
Then, of course, there is the whole post-war hot-rod culture. I particularly like the Salt Flat stuff, like the Lakesters made from airplane wing tanks and the streamliners.
I’m not very well versed in classic motorcycles but I do follow some contemporary motorcycle builders like Shinya Kimura and Maxwell Hazan, whom my brother Kenny worked for while living in L.A.
KO: Your sound sculpture, Machines, was created in several individual segments, each part with its own sound. Do you consider yourself a musician?
KP: I am not a musician and that was part of the beauty of Machines. The collaboration with musicians was necessary because they had a skill and talent that I needed for the project but didn’t have myself. The intention of Machines was to pay tribute to the heritage of craftsmanship in American industry and to honor the loss of jobs, pride, and infrastructure as manufacturing was being exported out of the country.
Machines was my way of processing what happened to great American cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Buffalo, which were once built upon manufacturing quality domestic products but were now cities in decay. It was about people leaving union jobs of which they were proud. It was about “They just don’t make things like they used to in the USA.”
I have this connection to industry because I work with metal. The building where my studio is was once the second largest furniture factory in the country. Trains and ships pass by daily. I think all of this inspired me to do a project dealing with industrial themes. Industrial machines all have a rhythm, so making a musical project was an easy leap. I proposed the idea to Tommy Stinson who was very enthusiastic. After that, a whole crew of amazing musicians jumped in and got involved. There were usually 7 or 8 musicians for any performance. Their dedication really brought the project to life.
The thing that was great about making sound sculptures from industrial equipment and doing musical performances was that music is very approachable. Art can sometimes feel exclusive or require background knowledge. Anyone could see these crude industrial sound sculptures, hear the music and respond.
KO: Is working in solitude a necessity for you?
I always need some time to myself in my studio. My work is very personal and it can be difficult to get to a place where you’re putting yourself into a piece while your working around others. When working on larger projects I sometimes have a studio assistant.
KO: You haven’t been close to your stepbrother, Armand, for some time but you named your recent piece after him — any particular reason?
KP: Armand was one of the sons of my Dad’s third wife. We shared a room for a few years and when my dad divorced, Armand left my life. It was completely out of my control. He was no longer my brother and it was abrupt and difficult to process.
This type of thing occurred many times as I was growing up. As my parents struggled through their various relationships many people came into my life, then left. It informed who I am. I’m open and expressive but also guarded and unwilling to be vulnerable. I think the themes of vulnerability and protection come through in many of my works. When I was working on the piece you are referring to I was thinking about my brother, although there is not a specific dialogue about him or our relationship.
KO: You are a bit of a nomad, isn’t that complicated considering the machinery required to create your pieces?
KP: Yes! When I decided to leave Oakland, I left rather quickly. I sold what I could and loaded everything else on a trailer. There was no logic to what came to New York with me other than it’s what was left. There was a 1929 Model A Pickup, a wing tank from a P-38, half a motorcycle, etc. I’ve been in my current studio for 6 years now and have amassed quite a few heavy things during this time.
KO: Can you talk a bit about the personalities of your sculptures? How do automobiles inspire your forms?
KP: There are shapes that I’m drawn to aesthetically; streamline shapes, aerodynamic shapes, car fenders, fuselages, rocket ships, etc. These are shapes that you want to run your hands over. These streamline forms are often a starting point for my work but they are lifeless inanimate objects on their own — beautiful, but without soul. I enjoy bringing those objects to life.
My work is about movement, emotion, and form but it is not specifically representational. People don’t always know where to place the work so they think of insects, or extraterrestrials but I prefer that people accept the work as abstract. The form is only there to represent the feeling or as a result of an emotion I’m feeling. My work is not about looking like something specific as much as it is about evoking a feeling while creating something visually appealing.
KO: It’s interesting that you don’t necessarily adhere to a maquette for fabrication but allow yourself lots of freedom to explore. That said, it can’t be easy to fix a mistake when working in steel. Do mistakes, if any, also guide your decisions during the process?
KP: For me expression comes out more through process than concept. I enjoy being taken in a radically different direction as I’m working on a piece. I’m searching for a solution but I don’t know what the problem is. The beautiful thing about welding metal is that you are making a molecular bond: two pieces actually become one. You can’t do that with wood or stone.
KO: How has living in a community surrounded by fellow creators contributed to your work?
KP: There is the obvious collaboration with musicians on Machines. I recently did a piece with Jack Walls. There are a lot of talented visual artists around Hudson. It’s inspiring to be around others who are creating great work. It’s important to be able to bounce ideas off of others. I enjoy doing studio visits with other artists and I’m always interested in process.
KO: You clearly love to problem solve — do you find that a necessary attribute for creators in general?
KP: Problem solving keeps you sharp. Art is problem solving at it’s root. How do you express one thing with something else? As an artist you sometimes create problems just to go through the process of solving them.
KO: Is there an artist or craftsman that has been a major influence on your work, if so, who and how?
KP: Lee Bontecou is a big influence. Her work is unlike anyone else’s. I love her forms and use of materials.
As someone who was a skilled metal smith creating welded sculptures, David Smith is a big influence, and the scale and simple kinetic motion of DiSuvero and Calder fueled my desire to create large kinetic work.
The ability of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi to create simple, smooth and minimal forms that are at the same time organic and expressive is important to me and there are other influences such as the personal explorations within Louise Bourgeois’ work. Mark Pauline’s Survival Research Laboratories was an inspiration for Machines.
KO: What have you discovered that art school didn’t teach you?
KP: In art school they really pounded it in to you that you have to work every day, draw every day — all the time. Always create. It took me a long time to accept that one didn’t have to do that: that taking time to have life experiences brings more depth to the work. It’s good to take breaks and then grow hungry to be back in the studio.
view more of Kris Perry's work.