In anticipation of visiting his Brooklyn studio and sitting down to talk with Mike, I thought I knew what to expect, having much familiarity with his artwork. I was happily thrown off-kilter by how drastically he was unlike the person I’d envisioned. Okay, I was right about his favorite color: the neon pink he regularly uses and loves to the extent we (half) joked about adding a neon pink tailored suit to his wardrobe. But I was dead wrong in expecting an eccentric artist with electrons of energy bouncing off all walls.
Those radiating lines he uses in his artwork? They also radiate from him, but far from frenetic. His energy is warm and calm. Everything has a place in Mike’s artistic practice, studio, and life. In fact, he’s utterly organized, which might have been the most surprisingly realization of all. Underpinning his brilliant, beaming artistic output is a mind that loves the pragmatic as much as the creative. He envisions his studio as a space ship but never forgets the fuel needed to run it.
You started making art as a child and went to art school. What has drawn you to creating artwork?
To be honest, I don’t know if I had any real options. I’ve never been good at anything else, and that’s helpful. I have friends who are really talented at making visual art, music, and a million other things. You know how some people can just do anything? Sometimes those creative people struggle with their options. And I’m in deep at this point, so there’s no going back.
How do you feel about making art for a living?
I love it. I’m an incredibly fortunate human being who basically just gets to play, have fun, and think about things in a really loose and open way. But my brain is also interested and really excited about business. Somehow I’ve been able to feed both of those parts of myself. So making art doesn’t even feel like a choice but feels like a fact.
Could you even imagine yourself doing something else in life?
I think it would be fun to work in the hospitality industry. I really enjoy hosting and taking care of people [Mike says with a charmingly self-conscious laugh]. It’s one of the things I really like about having a team, that I get to harness some of that spirit.
Today for lunch we had a lasagna that I made last week that was fucking mind-blowing. I followed this Alice Waters’s recipe, and it was one of the best lasagnas I’d ever made. And that stuff is important to me because it creates camaraderie and warmth and fills your body.
That desire to be hospitable is something I think about when I make work. I want to make things that make people feel good.
What’s your art like when it’s just pure, unadulterated Mike Perry? And how do you feel about your commercial work?
It’s always something different. It depends on the day. I like the commercial work because it gives my life structure. Years ago, when I was starting a fine art practice, I wouldn’t have gotten into the routine of keeping proper hours and planning deliverables and milestones. But it’s so helpful for the sake of the organization of my life. Within that organization, I have a lot of flexibility and creative time. The commercial work also pays the bills.
We’ve gotten to a place where we have this beautiful ecosystem where we can keep the ship running. I’m into the metaphor of the space ship — I’m a huge Star Trek fan – so I see the studio as the space ship, where we are on this insane journey into the unknown. And how do we make sure this space ship always has fuel? That takes money. It’s just the society we live in. You don’t just go out into space — you’re on a crazy mission, so you need to figure out how to keep that thing going.
So how did you get involved in Broad City, and what has that experience been like?
Abi and I were both at Art Basel a bunch of years ago because we had done some work for AOL’s artist program, which commissioned artists to make really illustrative backgrounds for their logo. One day, AOL called to ask, “We’re going down to Art Basel. Do you want to go?” And I was like, “All expenses paid, of course.” And all the artists involved were debaucherous together, as per usual. So Abi and I befriended each other there. And a few years later, Comedy Central reached out. Abi really wanted to work with me on the show, and now we’re four years in.
The way I see it, my role is to be a satellite who makes these beautiful things for Broad City so that they don’t have to think about it. Specifically for the titles, I try to be inspired by the things going on in the world around me, and I hope that they make sense to Abi and Ilana, and so far that’s worked. And they are the most beautiful, trusting bosses.
I find that a lot of brilliant creative people have a platonic relationship with someone who’s an amazing creative partner. Who’s that lucky person for you?
J [Director of Craft at the Mike Perry Studio] and I are deep…deep. Then I have my friend Jim Stoten who I collaborate with all of the time and have been for years, even though he lives in the UK. [Check out their Instagram Mike & Jim’s Happy Hour @mikeandjimshappyhour].
I have my friend Emily who I went to college with. She was one of the first people who hired me for illustration, and we work together at least once or twice a year. We have such a rapport, and she’s my cooking mentor. She’s the person who is like one or two extreme levels above me in her cooking skills. We spend every Thanksgiving together, and she is my creative but also my food partner.
What else have you been cooking lately?
This year has been dedicated to mushrooms. Because of the Broad City mushroom episode, I’ve spent so much time thinking about them. I made the most epic mushroom broth soup experience that’s changed my life, and my wife thinks is the best thing I’ve ever made. You start with sesame oil, put in onions, garlic, some lemongrass, a massive pile of mushrooms, and some water. I’ve been putting in some Bragg’s nutritional yeast. It’s my favorite six-hour dinner to make. Holy fuck, it’s just the best.
And how did you get interested in cannabis, and what’s your relationship with it?
I didn’t start smoking till I was 30, and I’m 36 years old right now. The thing I like about it is that it feels more related to meditation culture than drug culture as far as I’m concerned. I think I might have some level of ADD, and cannabis helps with that. I have a lot of energy and ideas bouncing around in my brain at all times. And sometimes it’s helpful to move a little slower and be more focused. Marijuana lets that happen.
And, actually, I became a vegetarian sitting there [points to the seat across from us, where his 50-pound dog Bass is sleeping] when I was stoned. I put Bass on my lap, looked her in the eyes, fell more in love, and I thought to myself I can never eat another animal.
You have a volcano right there. Is that your method of cannabis consumption?
The studio has smoked a lot of spliffs over the year, and as a group, we’re trying to Volcanize a bit more. It’s cleaner, but it’s still communal. One of the things that’s disappointing about the smaller devices is that you can pass them, and it doesn’t feel as communal.
One last question. You have a post on Instagram that says “Neil de Grasse Tyson for President.” We love him too, but what’s that about?
I would just love to see him debate because every he answers a question and makes complete sense. How refreshing would that be?
Mike talks a lot about being lucky to be surrounded by amazing people. We suspect there’s some magic from the universe involved, but it probably has more to do with him being an interesting, interested, and intimidatingly talented guy. And now also, we’re grateful to say, a friend of Say Hi.