Self-described “homegrown artist” C.B. Perry grew up in the Manchester neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s Northside in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The area was “much tougher” then, he says, but it—along with the many years he spent as a Boy Scout—helped to build his character. In this interview with Perry, Northside Chronicle Managing Editor Ashlee Green discovers what drives the artist creatively, his secret to success (Hint: It’s not a secret), and the advice he has for artists who want to take the next leap in their careers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos courtesy of the artist
The Northside Chronicle: You’re a Northside native, a self-described “homegrown artist” from Manchester. How has growing up in Manchester and seeing it change throughout the years informed your life and work?
C.B. Perry: Growing up in Manchester was interesting. It was quite different then than it is nowadays. It was a much tougher area in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and at times, even dangerous, but I can honestly say I learned a lot and it was a huge character builder. Over the more recent years, tons of changes have been happening all over the Northside. It’s great to see as long as the community is hands-on with the changes and new developments. I feel you can either watch change or be a part of change; Positive progression is always good.
“I feel you can either watch change or be a part of change; Positive progression is always good.”– C.B. Perry
NSC: How did you begin to dabble in art and what made you want to pursue it as a career?
CBP: I have always been into art since I can remember: cartoons, comic books—I was a huge X-Men fan—video games, and even hip hop. I remember being so fascinated by CD album covers and the wild music videos. The early ‘90s just felt like a giant burst of creativity. I used to always draw at home and in school, and at the age of seven, my mom got me a drafting table for Christmas; I basically lived on that thing. I always loved art, but never quite knew how to pursue it early on. It was not really until I met and spoke with Darrell Kinsel of Boom Concepts randomly at a bus stop when I was 22 that I started to think becoming an artist was a possible path. Almost 10 years later, I met Baron Batch at a charity event and spoke with him. He encouraged me to leap out and pursue that passion.
NSC: Your father, Alan Perry, served as the scoutmaster at Bidwell Street United Presbyterian Church in Manchester for 27 years, and you earned the rank of Eagle Scout with his troup. What did that experience teach you about your own autonomy and creativity?
CBP: Yes, I am an Eagle Scout: Class of 2004, Troop 281. I have been in scouting since I was about six years old. Learning life skills mixed with outdoor skills is something I personally feel should be necessary for every young man. It was an introspective way to learn who you are while growing up. Being exposed to a vast base of knowledge by earning merit badges in courses such as art, first aid, emergency preparedness, swimming, aviation, and cooking, you truly find out what your interests are, and also what they aren’t. The skills I learned in scouting even helped me save the lives of two people.
NSC: You said that your “unconventional and often unfiltered humor” is translated through your artwork. How has your humor been received by your audiences?
CBP: Creative expression should not be inhibited. Early in my career, I used to create what some would describe as “controversial” artwork: works to express a certain political stance and even performance art with live body painting—basically, pushing the creative boundaries as far as I can. Watching the various interpretations I get from audiences, to me, is the art.
NSC: Talk about the artwork you have displayed in the Pittsburgh International Airport.
CBP: The painting is a part of my “Spread Love” series. The message I want to convey is that love can be messy, wild, and crazy, but most importantly, it’s a journey. It is on display at Gate A22.
NSC: You explored other careers and worked in early education for close to a decade before you became a full-time artist. Does interacting with young children inspire you to see the world in a different light?
CBP: I bounced around in the career world trying to find something that worked for me. I have done some nonprofit work, sales jobs, marketing jobs, and even personal training and fitness. In college, I was a maintenance man for an apartment complex, so I was kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I love education on every level: Working with children keeps you young and creative. It’s inspiring to see how they view the world.
“With the power of social media, the [artist’s] platform is endless. You never know who is watching your work and journey.”– C.B. Perry
NSC: You said you’ve sold nearly 1300 original paintings worldwide. What’s your secret to international success, and what do you tell other artists who want to achieve the same acclaim?
CBP: With the power of social media, the [artist’s] platform is endless. You never know who is watching your work and journey. I have shipped artwork to London and Italy; I was extremely shocked that people were fans of my work internationally. There is no real secret, just be consistent and be aware of the fact that strangers all over the world are watching and want to support you. You never know who is rooting for you.
NSC: What’s next for you and your artwork?
CBP: A lot! I’m working to navigate what is hopefully a post-COVID-19 era: Working on art exhibitions for 2021, working on projects with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and I have a collaboration with Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream in progress. I created my own signature flavor (“Blackout Brownie,” a dairy-free gelato made with dark chocolate and brownies). Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to 1Hood Media to help in their efforts to aid in social justice. I created a signature beer with Burgh’ers Brewing dubbed “Palette” in collaboration with Fresh Fest Digi Fest. Also, more artwork.
NSC: Where can people find you and your work online?