Those who embrace the creative life know making art is essentially a soul/sole endeavor. Sure, you can hobnob with other creative types and influencers at openings to make connections, but before you can get your work recognized, you have to make the work. It’s you, the paintbrush (or the pen or the charcoal) and that blank canvas or slate. Daunting.
No one knows this better than Springs resident and artist Mark Perry, who has been painting most of his adult life and who currently has his first solo museum show titled Points East — Montauk / Miami at the Coral Gables Museum in Coral Gables, Florida, running through November 2. The exhibition features 25 works from different series (abstract to realism and an installation) by Perry, who says he finds inspiration in his surrounding landscapes, whether out east or in Florida.
Perry and his partner John McGovern (who owns a mergers and acquisitions company, as well as East Hampton Wines & Liquors at the One Stop shopping center in Springs) spend significant time at their home in East Hampton close to Three Mile Harbor, and during the winter months, in Miami, at their condo in South Beach.
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 on the East End. He studied portraiture and life drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design’s evening division in the 1980s and open drawing at the Spring Street Studio and The Society of Illustrators, both in New York City. In the 1990s, he worked as a draftsman and painter in the architecture and fashion industries for 15 years. His solo shows include the Surface Library Gallery in East Hampton, Ille Arts in Amagansett, the Quogue Library in Quogue and the New Century Gallery in NYC, and his paintings are permanently displayed in collections at both Memorial Sloan Kettering Nassau Concourse and the NYU Langone Art Collection.
Perry’s show at Coral Gables Museum is an exciting step in his artistic career, not only as his first solo museum show, but because it also features his first installation piece — consisting of colorful, repetitive motifs painted on sheets of suspended plastic that allow the viewer to walk through and experience the art up close.
The thoughtful, quietly persistent Mark Perry paints every day, but he graciously made time to talk with us via telephone about his life, his work and his solo show.
Mark Perry Discusses Points East — Montauk / Miami
Did you always think you were going to be an artist?
I did, because I was always considered one of the more talented people in my class in elementary school — I grabbed onto that as a kid. I always dreamed.
I went to life drawing classes as a kid, and then after high school I needed to get a job so I went through a drafting program and I did that for a decade — all the while going to life drawing classes on the weekend. Then I took a portraiture class at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) evening division working with RISD professors privately on the weekends.
It bothered me in my youth that I didn’t have a formal education, but I worked with a lot of people then who would sense my feelings about that and I remember one of them just saying, “Mark, you don’t have to go to art school to be an artist.” So it kind of stayed with me as a young person.
Why didn’t you pursue a formal education in art?
I went to a very good art high school; they were known for their art programs, but I just didn’t get the confidence that I should have … not to blame them, but it was a lot of upheaval at home that got in the way. And at the time I started drinking when I was legal … I knew what I wanted to do, I kept at it, but financially, I didn’t think that school was an option.
I know a lot of people who went to art school and just kind of petered out as adults, so it doesn’t really mean that you are going to continue — I kept that in mind, too.
How has your art developed?
Early on, my roots were more traditional in wanting to be more of an academic painter; I really felt that was the groundwork for an artist, to have that. I did portraiture for a while; I focused a lot on faces as well as the figure, mostly in charcoal, pen and ink or graphite.
I didn’t feel ready to show work until I was well into my 40s and you know everybody said early on, “You need to show, you need to show” and my instincts were, “No, I’m 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 stopped drinking from one day to the next so my life really improved at that point … I could deal with things. I worked a bit and studied shiatsu for about a year; I had put painting on hold … I think it was around 2003–2004. And then I met John.
Tell me about John.
John and I met in the city — I was about 47 at the time, and I would come out to see him out here in East Hampton. We were seven months out and we were developing this relationship, and one day we were out east and he said to me, “Are you ever going to paint again?” and I thought, “Yeah, what am I doing, why am I waiting?” and I just kind of dove in.
In 2019, John took over a mergers and acquisitions company … he’s doing well, he’s really grown the business … I think more importantly, he’s the president of the board of Project Most (in Springs), the after school program that is actually growing thanks to John and his board members.
Do you consider yourself an abstract expressionist?
I was always told, “You need to pick a lane — abstract or representational.” In the past decade or so I’ve accepted that that’s not the way I am … some artists get stuck in that. I happen to do both.
I made three new paintings for this museum show, and it was some of my strongest (representational) work of that kind … I just approached it very mechanically and it still had life when it was done. … I’m always learning, which is a wonderful thing. I also made two abstract paintings for the show and it’s a direction I really want to go in. I made a lot of small works on paper, and I called them my woven paintings like brush strokes that simulate the weave.
How did the museum show at Coral Gables come about?
Friends of friends were on the board of the museum; they were visiting out here, and I brought one of them to my studio and … he really liked my work, so he came back a week or so later with another board member. I thought it was just going to be part of a group thing and a week later they sent me an email saying, “Mark, we’d like you to make a proposal to the board … ” I had like a week because a board meeting was coming up and I just really cranked and I got it submitted. And they all approved it — it was like a unanimous thing, which for boards is pretty amazing.
Explain the title of the show: Points East — Montauk / Miami.
It refers to the connections of Montauk and Miami. Miami was built and designed by this guy Carl Fisher in the late teens and ’20s and there was this huge hurricane that wiped all that out. But in ’26 he came to Montauk and he was hoping 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 back him, but he started — he built the tallest building in Montauk (the Tower).
The museum had that story in mind and they proposed that to me, and I loved that history, but my history with Montauk and Miami is purely creative — (two places) where I happen to spend time.
When people respond to your work, that must 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 hearing conversation … I heard one person who was very dismissive, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve known great artists who have had people dismiss them, so far be it for me to get upset about that.” (laughs)
But at the same time, I heard different people express their incredible, positive feelings about the work and my installation in particular — a lot of people were very moved by it and surprised that they liked all the work that’s in the show. “It could easily be three people.” I like that, I don’t take that as a flaw or an issue with somebody’s work. I have different visions and I see cohesive nature to it and other people do, too. You can’t please everyone, that’s the beauty of it, you know.