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How pop surrealism artist Mike Perry is bringing cartoons to life

“My ultimate purpose of life is to become a cartoon,” said artist Mike Perry.

Granted, it might seem like a shocking goal at first. How can anyone become a cartoon? Why would anyone want to be one? More shocking, however, was the fact that following Mike Perry’s interview, I wanted to become a cartoon myself.

And you might end up realizing that after getting to know his art, you might want to be one too. 

Pop Surrealism

After learning about the interesting philosophies of an artist like Mike Perry, life’s most complicated questions come to a simple solution: explore.

“What does it mean to be alive?” “What is the meaning of life itself?” “Does it have a meaning?” And, perhaps his simplicity and audacity are what makes Mike a first-generation “Pop Surreal” artist.

“People are no longer surprised by melting clocks,” explained Mike.

“So much of my art is about trying to explore the things that are presented to us in a normal existence but through the lens of something different.”

The idea of a cartoon makes reality limitless, exploring the sudden possibility that anything can happen. “Making a painting is taking something that does not exist and projecting it into the universe through time, effort, talent, and craft,” he said.

It is bringing imagination into real life. 

And he proved that possibility with the animation for “Mushroom,” the fourth episode of the fourth season of the Comedy Central series Broad City.

With over 14,000 separate drawings and more than seven months of work, Perry illustrates Ilana and Abby’s (the show’s characters) trip on the mushroom.

The episode starts off with just animated eyes. Then, as the trip starts peaking, Abbi and Ilana walk through a tunnel that slowly builds an 8-minute fully animated cartoon.

Both the characters and the audience are taken into the surreal reality of the world. Within 22 minutes, he not only successfully accomplished delivering a comical and fascinating episode, but he manifested all the possible sensations that the characters encountered during their trip. 

Like the characters, the audience is surprised by the craziness of Mike’s illustrations. The bizarre feelings of a higher awareness; from experiencing higher alertness of emotions to spotting people butter skating over pancakes. 

The cartoon experience

“Anything that moves has the abstract element of time,” he told VICE.

Movement, therefore, is something that is essential to fundamental to all of Mike’s work. Its the combination of movement, color, and shape, which brings a cartoonish surreal experience to the beholder. 

Mike explained that with art, like with cartoons, there is a moment in time when reality starts drifting away. They get deeper into the building of a world, which in its essence, just reflects humanity on a different level.

“What I love about these is when people see things that are unrelated to me. That gives me joy. That is my language communicating in ways that I don’t understand,” he says. Thus, his work speaks to the beholder through a personal layer.

“I am a human and there are other humans out there. So there is a good chance that if I make something that I believe in, there are probably other humans that will also be into it.”

Mike is a true artist

His interest in cartoons started as a kid when his mother gifted him a Chuck and Buck book. He never read a single word from it, but he just drew every single picture found there.

When he got older, he studied Minneapolis College of Art and Design. This is where he truly learned something with animation excited him further.

But it’s all about creating a language that works best for him. And that probably explains why he makes art through so many different scales; Illustrations, sculptures, and paintings. 

Essentially, they all mirror an exploration of life through Mike’s own experience. Thus, creating a space for others to reflect on themselves through shared times and spaces and hopefully find joy, a positive point of view, and an optimistic landscape. 

“I feel grateful to be an artist because so much is dedicated to discovering what it means to be alive, what it means to me to be alive.”

Animation, painting, and culture, after all, are visual storytelling. And for Mike, these illustrated characters have the imaginary freedom to explore life’s experience in a simple, fun, and comical way.

All of the sudden, the idea of coming to a cartoon makes sense.