Local surrealist Cyrus Peery’s first memories include being taken to his mother’s painting class, where he said, “Ladies would pick me up and put me on their lap, and then I got to play with their canvas.” An avid drawer, Peery also “did theater forever.”
Nowadays, Peery draws his inspiration from local musician Gabriel Surley and sometimes performs alongside his musical muse, painting and crafting a work of art while the audience looks on. Peery’s experience with performative art made him a great choice to kick off this year’s Window on Art process, during which he spent three days constructing a piece in the Footwise storefront downtown before disassembling the piece to make room for the next artist. Peery was on hand to talk about his creative process with passers-by. Corvallis Arts Center assistant director Hester Coucke noted Peery’s skill in designing theater sets, and said that his Window on Art creation was “a great sculptural piece, made of very basic materials and painted very effectively.” Coucke described Peery as a “very intriguing guy, [and] very versatile.”
The Arts Center had been seeking an artist to produce “rural storefront” pieces for downtown Harrisburg windows, and Peery was selected to ply his trade. Coucke offered Peery the commission to make an installation that reflected the Harrisburg community, history, and cultural flavor. Besides requiring that “the region’s history and flavor be reflected in the piece,” she said Peery has a “fair amount of latitude.” Coucke said that Peery “understands very well that something you drive by needs to grab your attention right away.”
Peery is as comfortable sculpting as he is drawing or painting. “Give me steel, give me wood—give me anything—I will manipulate it. [Sculpture], for me, is more of [a process of] getting rid of the tools which aren’t necessary. So, when I carve a piece of wood,I know how to carve it because I’ve broken every tool that I could.” Peery now forges his own wood-working chisels and attributes his metal-working skills to an internship at Teledyne Wah Chang. “I learned all metals known to man—radioactive or not—I just know what sh*t’s made out of!”
Perennially upbeat and beaming with creative energy, Peery said, for him, the creative process usually ends in “a pleasant surprise.”
After having been arrested once “while taking a risk on a piece of art,” Peery co-founded the Corvallis Graffiti Collective, and raised funds for a local graffiti wall. Peery fought to convince community stakeholders that, without a sanctioned space for graffiti, “Young people were just going to [spray graffiti] somewhere else!” The popularity and regular use of the graffiti wall—situated on Western Avenue—supports Peery’s estimation that hundreds of community walls have been spared vandalism since its erection.
Collin Daggett of Beekman’s Antiques said the graffiti wall behind his business is a positive project. Daggett’s local customers “love to look at the wall,” and he expects to make that space available “for the foreseeable future.”
Asked to describe a recent inspiration, Peery recounted “a 70-pound piece of wood—I carved shark teeth into it. It looked like a shark to me. Then I set it on fire. I do tiki and totem pole stuff, and then I light them on fire.”
Asked if he’d sell artwork, Peery replied, “I’m so damn poor, I’m pulling out of trashcans. That’s the way it works. Anyone who wants to buy my stuff can buy my stuff.”
But only before Peery sets it on fire.
See Peery’s work at the Thursday, May 21 Arts Walk at the Corvallis Advocate Loft, 425 SW Madison Avenue, upstairs over Einstein’s Bagels with an entrance just west of the bagel shop. The free exhibit is open from 4 to 8 p.m.
By Paul Henry