Photograph of Perry Pfister by Richard Darbonne
Red Clouds Collective member Perry Pfister is a man of many talents. A master of execution, Perry works in a variety of mediums and is adept at each of them—from screen-printing for artists to high-end commercial work to hand-painted signs. Recently he has been honing in on the craft of neon and taking his work to a whole new level. He’s a man on a mission—if you have the opportunity to work with him, he jumps over every obstacle with ease and hands you a better product than you ever could have imagined. Perry’s a talented musician, too, and over the past decade, he has played bass in some of Portland’s finest bands. We sat down with Perry to talk more about what he has going on and the passion behind his work.
RCC: Perry you have come a long way with your neon work in the past few years, what inspired you to get into neon in the first place, and what drives you to push it further year after year?
PP: I got into neon because of a fascination with letters. I wanted to figure out how to bring letters and simple graphics to the next level, and neon was beckoning as the answer to how to make that real. When we all shared a studio downtown, and I lived in North Portland, I would bike down Interstate Avenue to get to the studio. On Interstate are these landmark neon signs, The Palms, The Alibi, and even this little "Sorry" in script on the Economy Inn. All of this stuff, in combination with my past of growing up in New Orleans, and being attracted to large older cities, all accumulated into this intrigue about how neon was made, and how I could possibly utilize it to satiate the inner graffiti kid within me, and put some ideas on blast out in the community.
As far as what drives me year after year, it is the possibilities alone that make me feel like I have a lifetime of work ahead of me. I have so many ideas, I can't keep up with them, and in combination with all of these ideas that other folks ask me to help them realize, I am constantly trying to figure out how to do something new. That keeps a craft really fresh, having a new set of problems to solve with each project, and being able to solve other problems easier with all the accumulated experience. Basically, I can't even keep up with the amount of ideas I have, so I am constantly chasing that rabbit.
RCC: You have been in loads of music projects here in Portland over the years, what projects are you involved in these days?
Musically, I have been concentrating on a project called Ponyghost, which my friend, Jason Paglia, and I started in 2007, and are just picking back up on in the last year and a half after much water under the bridge. I'm really excited about Ponyghost, it steps beyond the solely musical and entertainment realms that most of the music I have played has existed within, and takes on elements of performance art and poetry and visual art. I also play upright bass in a children's band called Red Yarn, which incorporates a cast of really cool puppet characters to accentuate old folk and traditional tunes that have been reworked to create a world these puppets live in, The Deep Woods. It's really amazing stuff, and Andy, the main guy, is just so driven and motivated, it's really a great force to be around. Playing to children is magical in its own way too, way better than playing to a bar of uninterested adults. Other than that, I just play with friends when we can get together.
Boardslide Circa 1998 and playing bass in PWRHAUS at PDX Pop Now
RCC: Like us, you are a typography nerd, what are some influences you draw from to create your beautiful letter forms?
PP: Typography is a central interest in my life, and always has been. My mom is a graphic designer, so I started to play with those rub-on letters when I was really little. In high school and college I painted letters out in the world, and that lead me on a path of developing style in lettering. As I got older I sought means of simplifying letters and having subtle elegance speak more than loud style. I am inspired by everything, even the stuff I hate. I know what not to do based on trendy attempts or poorly thought out ideas. I see what to strive for in some really pure sources, hand-painted signs (new and classic), produce packaging, graffiti, old labels, peoples penmanship, artists who use letters in their compositions, anything that was done with conviction, even the hand of folk artists. It's all relevant, its just a matter of seeing the details that appeal to you or repulse you.
Two Collaborations with San Francisco based artist Barry McGee
RCC: What does the future hold for Perry Pfister?
PP: The Future of Perry Pfister is neon, more music, more love, more travel, more ducking under bridges to see who was there. I just feel like I have been building this person for so long, and from so many angles, and now all of those paths I have taken are converging into a person who I've always hoped to be. I'm glad I tried to do 400 things slowly instead of one thing quickly, now all of the 400 things make sense, and carry their initial purpose so distinctly, and I am validated by their connection with my life now.
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