There’s a big project in the works on Dean Street in Prospect Heights—and it’s not the seventeen high-rise buildings that are currently under construction in the area. This Saturday, August 15, Dean Street will be shut down to traffic between Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues for a day-long block party and live mural painting along the 820-foot-long construction fence already in place there.
Mike Perry, a multimedia artist based in Crown Heights, has been named “Artist-in-Chief” of the mural project, which is being sponsored by Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP), the company behind the 22-acre Pacific Park Brooklyn development. And he’s pulled together nine other Brooklyn-based artists to work alongside him on Saturday.
We recently caught up with Perry to learn more about the mural, the other nine artists, and what makes Brooklyn feel like home to him.
Perry moved to New York “around 2004,” and first settled in Prospect Heights. At the time, the Kansas City native had been living and working in Philadelphia, but then his stars suddenly realigned: “I didn’t spend a lot of time making the decision,” he tells me with a laugh. “I met a girl. She lived in Brooklyn, and I moved there.” Shortly thereafter, while Perry was looking for a studio, he found a space on Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street, and got to know the neighborhood. When his lease was up in Prospect Heights, it made sense to relocate to Crown Heights.
Over the phone, Perry sounds laid back and honest, perhaps a credit to his midwestern upbringing, which also might be the source of his indefatigable work ethic. Since 2007, Perry has been in almost forty group and solo exhibitions around the world; he’s published four books and been featured in fifteen; he’s been profiled in almost twenty magazines; he’s taught and guest lectured across the country; and his clients have included household names like MTV, AOL, and Microsoft, among many others. And, he’s also the artist behind the psychedelic Broad City intros.
“When I was growing up in the midwest, everyone talked about New York City being this massive city where you don’t really get to connect to people, and it put this fear in me,” says Perry, but then “when I moved here [to Crown Heights] it felt like the smallest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.” He adds, “It’s like I’m living in a giant city, but have a small-time feel.”
These days, Perry finds that his “whole life revolves around this neighborhood”—his work, his apartment, his favorite hangouts—and so when GFCP tapped him to lead, organize, and participate in the mural installation, he gladly took on the role; it was a chance to give back to the community.
“I think the thing about murals is that they have the ability to pull you out of your routine,” says Perry. “You walk by something everyday and all of a sudden you see a bit of color and it pulls you out. That’s what the power is. It’s about the experience and about what you can take away. It can turn something that’s always there a little bit brighter.”
And it’s brightness and color (plus a dash of the abstract) that tie together the work of all ten artists—Perry, plus Hisham Akira Bharoocha, Morgan Blair, Josh Cochran, Thomas Colligan, Archie Lee Coates IV, Jennifer Maravillas, Eddie Perrotea, Edward Ubiera, and Naomi Reis.
“I felt like the work should really stand out as you walk down Dean Street,” Perry tells me. He’s carefully planned each detail and even over-planned in the event of an “emergency” on Saturday.
What counts as a mural-related emergency? Running out of paint or sunlight. But Perry is confident: “I feel like if we need a couple of extra hands at 7pm before the sun goes down, we’ll be able to rally the troops.”
Read on below for profiles on the other nine artists participating this Saturday:
1. Hisham Akira Bharoocha: Bharoocha is a Japanese-born and Brooklyn-based musician, visual artist, and photographer who has exhibited works in numerous galleries around the world while also making his mark in New York’s underground music scene. His recent work has explored how the mind fuses images while dreaming, day dreaming, and meditating, or just by going through daily life activities. Bharoocha writes that he likes to “observe how his visions and feelings all blend together to create a massive medley of images and vibrations that one can feel in the body.”
2. Morgan Blair: Massachusetts native and RISD illustration graduate Blair now makes her home in Brooklyn, creating brightly colored, abstract works that are inspired by imagery from the 80s and 90s (she was a 90s child), Seinfeld, and that part of her childhood spent “staring at the ladies in the grocery store airbrushing cakes.” She pays nostalgic homage to her 90s memories with painting titles like, Soft Touch Collection Unlimited Too and Helen Hunt’s 1968 Snow Globe Containing Vision of Future 1994 Grocery List, Mariah Carey CD.
3. Josh Cochran: Cochran grew up in Taiwan and California and now works as an illustrator out of his Brooklyn studio, “specializing in bright, dense and conceptual drawings.” (He also teaches at the School of Visual Arts.) He has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows around the country, plus Germany and Denmark, and received a Grammy nomination in 2013 for Best Limited Edition Packaging for his work on Ben Kweller’s Go Fly A Kite.
4. Thomas Colligan: Swiss illustrator and designer Colligan now makes his home in Brooklyn, drawing colorful scenes with the playful eye of a child. The characters in his works inhabit multiple dimensions on the same (flat) plane and look fairly innocent at first—until you look closely. Colligan has previously worked under the direction of Peter Mendelsund.
5. Archie Lee Coates IV: One half of the duo that runs PlayLab, Inc. (the other half is Jeffrey Franklin), Coates is an artist and designer who has previously worked on creating giant worms for the New Museum and opening a pie shop in rural Alabama, and now is bringing New Yorkers a floating pool in the East River in mid-2016 (He also somewhat recently gave a TEDxEASTHAMPTON talk on the idea).
6. Jennifer Maravillas: With an undergraduate degree in graphic design and a master’s in mass communication, Maravillas now works as an illustrator out of her Brooklyn studio—using watercolor, markers, ink, spray paint, pencil, Photoshop, and various other media to create her (colorful, intricate, layered) cityscapes and scenes. Her passions are anthropology and sociology, and she trained in ballet as a child.
7. Eddie Perrote: Originally from the Badger State aka America’s Dairyland aka Wisconsin, Perrote recently graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and now works as an illustrator and designer based out of Brooklyn. He writes that his drawings and paintings “are dense and elaborate images” that are “dripping with hyper-saturated pigments… in which the viewer can become lost.” He likes using his imagination and dabbling in bright colors, and has worked with clients like Nickelodeon and Mountain Dew.
8. Edward Ubiera: A Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, Ubiera has been keeping a low (online) profile. He works as an art director and graphic designer and is, of course, based in Brooklyn.
9. Naomi Reis: Born in Japan, Reis received a BA in Transcultural Identity at Hamilton College and an MFA from the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, and now works as an artist out of her Brooklyn studio. She uses her work to explore “the artificial space created by the intersection of architecture and natural environments.” To that end, Reis has completed numerous residencies and has shown her mixed media drawings, paintings, and installations in venues like Kunsthalle Galapagos and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her most recent series, Borrowed Landscapes, “serves as a visual metaphor for the human experience of migration and cultural displacement.”