John Perry

The eclectic mix of prints produced by John Perry is best described by his own term “ex-perry-menting” where following the laws of chance and moving intuitively from one idea to the next is one of the key philosophies underlying Perry’s art practice, and indeed his approach to life. His career is as diverse as his print making practice, having worked as an artist, arts educator, curator, art dealer, consultant and valuer. He currently lives and works from Global Village Antiques & Collectables, Helensville’s former Regent Cinema, now home to Perry’s impressive collection of art objects from around the world and NZ cultural ephemera. His collection practice at Global Village Antiques is driven by three principles: the unusual, unexpected and extraordinary, resulting in a collection of often surprising and unique pieces. 

Perry’s enthusiasm for collecting art began while studying at Elam School of Fine Art, Auckland, in the 1960s starting with work from fellow art students and lecturers like Colin McCahon (1919-1987). He remembers buying his first McCahon painting, withdrawing every last penny from his account to purchase it, not for investment purposes, but purely because he was so captivated by the work. The first print he ever acquired was an engraving by New Zealand artist E. Mervyn Taylor (1906-1964) and he speaks with passion about the etchings and aquatints of New Zealand artist Connie Lloyd (1895-1982), of which he has several in his collection. Remarkably, the star object of his print collection is a Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) etching, which he came across in a Whanganui book shop, trimmed and pasted into a book among the pages of over 100 other copper plate engravings. 

Perry was first introduced to printmaking as a student at Elam. His immediate connection with the medium was inspired by his lecturer Kees Hos (1916-2015) who had breathed new life into the print department at the time, fostering an adventurous spirit among his students and introducing new approaches to lithography and etching. However, it was the less traditional techniques and materials that captured his imagination and the endless possibilities of combining low-tech methods such as stencilling, embossing and frottage so as each work is unique, varying from the previous impression. Driven by the thrill of discovering something new and pushing the boundaries, Perry has never been interested in print as multiple, but more as a painterly medium, preferring to make a series of one-off originals, with each one varying from the last. 

This includes printing on unconventional supports such as discarded, weathered pieces or wood, rusty objects and cardboard. In a collaboration with sculptor Jeff Thompson, Perry screen-printed a selection of quotes from some of his art heroes that resonate with him as an artist onto various rusty objects sourced and shaped by Thompson. One rusted plaque reads: “Art is anything you can get away with” Marshall McLuhan 1911-1980 noting that *Andy Warhol stole this from Marshall McLuhan. His series of pop-art inspired, screen-printed pizza boxes feature American music icons Fats Dominoes and Chuck Berry and images taken from antique cigarette packaging. A self-proclaimed “typo junkie”, text, lettering and signage are a prominent feature in his work, attracted to the repetitive, geometric form of stencilled text.

Perry often uses found stencils and wood blocks, printing them with felt rollers as opposed to rubber rollers. Early this year he will be involved in a project hosted by the East Southland art Gallery in Gore editioning eight lino blocks created by Theo Schoon (1915-1985) in the 1950s, inspired by Schoon’s research on Māori rock paintings. Having worked closely with Schoon, he has printed blocks for Schoon in the past and organised a show of his collected works in 1982 while he was the Director of Rotorua Art Gallery. Although a controversial figure, Perry believes Schoon was a beacon of light in what was a very a dark, conservative scene at the time, who helped to open people’s eyes as to what contemporary New Zealand art could look like. Similar to Schoon, Perry values the creative process of extending beyond the established conventions of a medium to challenge definitions of what art is. 


Interview with John Perry on Seven Sharp:

Interview with John Perry: