There’s a schtick assigned to most artists, an aesthetic framework with which their viewers associate them. The visual and aural signifiers of Miami musician and artist Gavin Perry, though, are broad; while the columns and canvas paintings in much of his installations often have a rich, candied appearance — thanks to his frequent use of thick, colorful resin — it’s difficult to neatly categorize his work.
Perhaps this is because his pieces defy expectation, failing to be defined by their appearance alone. Instead, Perry’s works touch on concepts such as time, history, object fetish, and physical and spiritual transformation, an approach that results in works that ostensibly feel like they have nothing in common.
“I’ve been interested in a trans-disciplinary approach for a number of years now,” Perry says. “I don’t like easy categorization. It’s a lazy way of compartmentalizing understanding, a cheap way to order the chaos. I think new understanding can be found in blurring expectation.”
Perry instead attaches significance to the creative process.
“Process is very important to me and my work. It’s like magic or alchemy. You’re mixing and brewing and that process distills an energy, an aura. It’s like all this power is being built and stored in the work.
“I think, in general, the first artists and chemists were alchemists, changing lead into gold,” Perry continues. “My work is pretty diverse in result. I do have an idea of what [the piece] is going to feel like, a general idea of how it’s going to look. But there’s a little bit of chance, something I don’t have much control over that gives it a life of its own.”
One of the best examples of this fusion of spontaneous alchemy and complex ideology is Dead Century, a cubed piece featuring large panels resembling car parts. Dead Century explores object fetish — in the form of car customization — with pieces made of vinyl and car resin. Viewing car customizers as alchemists, Perry sought to emulate the way they sculpted vehicles: in a way that personified the inanimate object.
The result was a happy accident, a lesson in the process of spontaneity: “I had cast my first resin piece for Dead Century, a small black cube,” he says. “I poured all the resin in one shot, which caused it to overheat and, as it set, it cracked everywhere. I had to glue the pieces back together in this beautifully imperfect cube, fissures and cracks everywhere. It was the most successful failure.”
Another exemplary piece features globular found objects coated in resin, hanging like suspended jellyfish from the ceiling; below them, panels and columns striped (and stripped) with the same thick resin dot the room. The hanging objects in particular seem frozen in time; one can see their original forms peeking from beneath the resin (a basketball, a piece of debris), but they’re transformed and given a second life underneath their new shells, which seem unbreakable.
“I wanted to give them a second life and show the flow of decay,” Perry says of Cluster Fuck. “So I poured resin over them, freezing them, idolizing them.”
As for the columns, their stripes are actually layers of paint and resin with varying depths. To Perry, each layer exists as a completed work. All their histories are “compacted into this dense form.”
The pouring of the resin, then, is its own multilayered story: one can actually see the passage of time in the columns as the stripes successively build onto each other. The hanging objects will no longer be subject to decay now that they’ve been reappropriated. They, too, have transcended time. Depth in both metaphorical content and appearance — this is pretty beautiful stuff.
A Miami cultural mainstay, Perry made art long before graduating college and settling in the Magic City. (You might know him as the tall, towering half of the noisy and transformatively heavy Holly Hunt. The other half is drummer, artist, and longtime partner Beatriz Monteavaro.) He constructed his first piece, a ceramic mud monster based on the made-for-TV movie The World Beyond, as a first grader. He attended art school in Philadelphia — where he met Monteavaro. When they eventually moved south, he took a construction job and set up a makeshift studio in their apartment: “It was a tiny, plastic-coated space not much bigger than a closet, pathetic in retrospect.”
That initial experience in South Florida solidified his desire to be a practicing artist, to have a “dedicated studio space” and to be “involved in the scene and interact with other visual artists.”
And it seems as if only Miami would do. In Whitehot’s 2007 review of Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow’s Miami Contemporary Artists, Aimée Sinclair described the Miami art scene as one that “manages to elude the prevailing standards of more traditional art cities. … Many of the artists featured in the book stand out not only for their art but also for creating venues for other artists to show.” Perry and Monteavaro were featured in the book, and a photograph of them accompanies the write-up. And like Sinclair, Perry is cognizant of Miami’s fresh fertility and its physical and psychological disconnect from the rest of the art and music worlds.
“I think making work in Miami, on a certain level, is a little bit easier in that you’re not under the same kind of scrutiny that you would be if you were in New York or L.A.,” he explains. “There’s plenty more opportunities in bigger cities, but it’s a lot more cutthroat. There are definitely support groups and artists who are engaged [here], who want to learn about the work. I work in a studio with Gean Moreno and Beatriz, and we all share ideas, talk about ideas, try and develop our work in a communal setting. For me, it’s very supportive.” He pauses. “But outside of that, it’s hit or miss,” he admits, laughing.
While Perry maintains that the experience of being nurtured by the art world may only be his own, the local music scene doesn’t seem too different. When Holly Hunt played the International Noise Conference in February, their performance was preceded by a show in which a motorcycle revved into one of Churchill’s indoor columns and flooded the room with a gnarly mix of suffocating smoke and noxious chemicals. Holly Hunt rose above it all, with Perry’s super-long guitar riffs and weird tonalities and Monteavaro’s intense drumming cutting through the toxic fog. (Like his visual art, Perry’s approach to performance is multifaceted, a whole array of frequencies guided by loads of guitar pedals.) Although it’s possible the revving left everyone in the bar with a nuclear blood type, nobody walked out.
“It seems really supportive here,” says Perry of the music scene. “People come out to shows, we go out to shows. It’s not this feeling of, ‘It’s my show and I’m going to be better than you and I’m going to get this record deal.’ We’re functioning in a much more D.I.Y. position.
“I’m worried that if you had major record companies descending on Miami, you’d maybe have a similar experience to what happened in Seattle. Maybe that’s a great thing, maybe that’s not such a great thing. I think Miami and South Florida in general have a long history of making really good music and really good, insulated music scenes, that some bands break out of and some don’t. It certainly would be interesting to see, but I’m not sure it would be great. I don’t want to see Churchill’s with a velvet rope.”
This self-reliant D.I.Y. approach is one Perry tries to apply to his art, linking both forms of expression in a way that’s personalized. He bemoans the commercial quality of Art Basel and the excessive amount of money involved, choosing to instead focus on his own work and what it means to him, paralleling the local music scene’s emphasis on meaning and quality which often leads to more focused, insular movements. “I feel like I’m much more engaged when I’m in my studio making my work and really focused on that,” he explains. “That tiny world feels much more comfortable and more real to me.”
Asked if he feels his music and art flow into each other energetically and conceptually, he replies, “I find it difficult to separate the two. I think music and visual art are stimulated from similar regions of the brain. In music, I want this ethereal thing — sound, rhythm — to have physicality. I want to feel the vibrations of sound in my gut. I want it to be brutal. I think similarly, for my art, I want something unexpected to happen. I want to feel the energy emanating from the pieces. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that keeps the drive going.”
In other words, the drive brings us back to the process, the process of formation and creation with all the energy, nuances, and potential mistakes. Here, we can include the different layers of fierce tones in Holly Hunt’s tracks, the scope of the pieces in his installations, the reuse and renewal of objects, the possibility for accidents and then rebirth. “I’m interested in things that can’t fully be mastered,” he says. “The path to mastery is what keeps me growing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
Holly Hunt. With Corrosion of Conformity, Consular, and Shroud Eater. 8 p.m. Monday, March 19 at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $18; age 18 and up. Call 305-377-2277, or visit grandcentralmiami.com.