On a calm Friday evening in March, artist John Perry sat down at Spencer’s Coffee in downtown Bowling Green.  Just two weeks before, Perry hosted an opening reception of his painting series called “Crystalline” in the same location.  The well-attended event included students and members of the community and featured special guests Tiger Merritt and Travis Goodwin from the band Morning Teleportation, who played live music.

Spencer’s owner Justin Shepherd invited Perry to hang his work after Spencer’s renovated and reopened in January.

“I knew John’s work,” Shepherd said.  “It’s good work and really big.  Perfect stuff to put up to reopen with.  The paintings have a lot of depth to them.”

With his paintings surrounding him, Perry seemed right at home.  However, the warm interior of Spencer’s was a far different atmosphere from what Perry was used to working in.  Perry explained his studio in Nashville as a simple, unheated shed in his backyard.  The lack of heat in January wasn’t easy to deal with, but Perry said this condition actually helped him create the “Crystalline” exhibition.  As Perry painted his canvas, he observed that the paint began to freeze.

The freezing paint was initially an accident.

“After I noticed it was going on, I pursued it.”  Perry said.  “In 15 minutes or so the paint would freeze.  The ice was making some marks of it’s own.”

Perry’s art professor, Yvonne Petkus, observed Perry’s response to stimuli while instructing him at WKU.

“He had a sense of experimentation and excitement about new ideas,” Petkus said.

Perry embraced the experiment, at times even pouring hot water onto his canvases to help the process.  Yet this wasn’t the first time he had taken an unconventional route to painting.  Perry preformed his art, which was broadly considered non-representational painting, during a live house show with the band Buffalo Rodeo.

“We had done it a couple of times before,” Perry said.  “But what we wanted to do was do it live as a performance in their house.”

During the show, Perry painted as the music played. 

“I painted as I felt moved to paint by the music,” Perry said.  “It was a really beautiful experience.”

He allowed the songs to stimulate his movements and brushstrokes, collaborating with the musicians.

“It came very naturally,” Perry said.  “It’s actually not very different from playing it or dancing to it.”

According to Perry, the show involved everyone from him, to the musicians, to the audience.

“I’m pretty sure I got paint on everyone in the front,” Perry said.

Petkus was familiar with Perry’s process of fusing art and music.

“John’s not worried about doing it right,” Petkus said.  “He’s responding to the moment and the music.  We end up with the residue of that response.  He’s genuinely in love with music and painting, so that interaction wasn’t an imposition.  It was a true partnership in a way.”

Perry, a painting and graphic design double major while at WKU, believed that the secret to creating great art was taking risks.

“A blank canvas has always been very exciting for me,” Perry said.  “It stares right back at you, daring you to make a mark.”

The permanence of paint thrilled Perry because a brushstroke could not be erased or undone like a pencil drawing or digital art.

“You can’t go backwards,” Perry said.  “You can’t erase.  There’s no undo button when you’re painting.  You’re trapping yourself, in a way, into a problem you have to solve.  You’re not going to be beat by it.  You’re going to keep painting until it’s right.  You just keep pushing.”

Perry painted because he felt like he had something to say as an artist, and painting was the only way he could fully articulate himself.

“[I’m] reaching for something, at least,” Perry said.  “I don’t necessarily know what that is, but I know painting is getting me there.”

Perry had a number of mentors in his life that gave him technical and inspirational advise. 

“The best piece of advice I ever got was from a buddy who said, ‘I’m going to have to stop trying to be an artist and just be one,’” Perry said.  “You always doubt yourself a little bit.  That’s normal.  You shouldn’t be afraid of that.  Just trust that what you’re doing is important.  You have to be willing to be vulnerable and brave enough.  That’s what’s moving.”