Interview with Artist Perry Allen on his installation, Town of Product

This summer, Modified Arts (Phoenix) exhibited Perry Allen’s Town of Product, a digitally animated installation which displayed 24 hours of still images from 1980s advertisements of suburban life, sped up to last 24 minutes. The installation was projected onto the windows of Modified Arts so it could be viewed within and outside of the gallery space.

Perry Allen completed this project with funds from the Arts Commission’s 2012 Artist Project Grant. (The grant program is now known as the Artist Research and Development Grant.) Allen was also the recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Merit Award. Artist Project Grant Panelists said of the artist: “This artist’s proposed project is conceptually very powerful and overall feasible to accomplish successfully; a very interesting, visionary commentary on cultural consumerism.”

We spoke with Allen about his process just after the debut of his piece:

How do you feel about your current debut?
The project is finished and currently had its debut exhibition at Modified Arts. The work has been a few years in the making and I was excited to display it, though I never will feel that any work is fully completed. I worked with Kimber (at Modified) on a new way to install the project, crossing the gallery’s boundaries between interior and exterior, which is a new process of exhibition for me.

Have you received any public recognition or reactions about your work?
The most recent exhibition offered a wide array of interesting interactions with the piece. People interpret it in very different ways, something that I find very exciting. I am always interested in how one piece can be internalized so differently by diverse people.

Where will the installation be next?
Currently, there are no future exhibitions scheduled, but hopefully it will show a few more times before the end of the year.

What have you been most pleased with so far in this process?
My favorite part of any project is the process itself. For me, creating art is all about the process for my internal self and the piece too. I am never the same after I engage in a project – the process always reveals something of me to myself – and I feel it’s the same with the project too. The process becomes the project.

Was there any particular catalysts or sources of inspiration for the project? Were you inspired by the work of other artists?

For this piece, I have been really influenced by the Hudson River School, a classical style of painting that fetishizes nature and human experience within it. I have been really interested in reconsidering that style of art but looking at built human space instead – in addition to emulating the overwhelming aesthetic experience of looking at Fredrick Edwin Church. I have also been looking at a lot of American folk art – simple, non-dimensional depictions of daily life and community – but I am appropriating that style through advertisements. And not to forget the surrealism of Hieronymus Bosch and Philip C. Curtis – both huge influences in this process.

What, if any, challenges or surprises have you experienced?
I am always thrilled as to how a piece will come together. There is the conception of it in my brain that is always a bit different than what comes out as the final product – and that is a thrilling experience. Since this work as dealt with a lot of different media technologies I have also had to work with a lot of technical mishaps, some of which left me with little to no sanity for a short spell.

Has your project changed in any unforeseen ways from your original concept?
Yes, certainly. As it came together, the project revealed itself to me. Certain aspects of perspective and overall image began to change as I collaged the media. The materials themselves really influenced how I worked.

How do you feel your project works within, or perhaps challenges, a recognized genre?
With its use of new media and technology I hope it plays with notions of classical painting and the canvas – though I’d love to hear from viewers what generic conventions they read into it.

What have you learned while completing this project—either about your work or your process or your business as an artist?
I spent a lot of time between Phoenix and New York City while making this piece and being a part of the art scenes in both cities, which has given me an incredible perspective on art making and business. It is difficult to put into words what it has shown me, but I can say that I now know why I make art and for what purpose.

How has the funding you received from the Arts Commission affected your work or your ability to produce this project?
Funding from the Arts Commission has allowed me to accumulate all of my necessary materials and work space for the project, in addition to the time and energy I could focus on my work. I was able to get all of my raw materials and tools with which to manipulate them because of the grant.

What impact do you think this project and the funding will have on your future work?
Already funding from the Arts Commission has opened a professional network previously unknown to me. It also played a role in my acceptance to two residency programs – one, last summer, at the Gershwin Hotel in NYC, and another coming up this August in the Whiskeytown National Park, CA.

How many times have you applied for funding like this?
This was my second time applying for funding through the Arts Commission.

Would you like to share any tips for artists seeking funding, seeking space, or looking for collaborators?
I still feel very much a humble newcomer to the art world so I do not want to assume any great knowledge. The only bit of wisdom I can share is just constantly work for it. Constantly apply for grants and residencies. Constantly make contacts in local and national networks. No one is going to just give it to you – you’ve got to go out there and take it.

Visit Perry Allen’s website at:

Click to view the Arizona Commission on the Arts press release: 2012 Artists Project Grants.

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