WATERLOO — One of the first encounters with Dan Perry’s imaginative and sometimes playful “Fabricated Facades” in the Forsberg Riverside Galleries at the Waterloo Center for the Arts are large yellow legs dressed in fringed crepe paper — with big red feet and cone knees — that tower over a collection of tiny wood-framed houses clustered around a blue resin puddle.
Nearby, a wood sculpture mimicking life-sized concrete blocks are tumbled across the floor, and a metal sculpture vaguely recalls a larger-than-life birdhouse topped by a tower and feather prop weather vane — a perfect garden sculpture — perched atop a spiral base. A large pedestal called “Hive” offers glimpses of an interior honeycomb topped with what looks like a large, white plastic hornet’s nest — or perhaps a cartoon thought bubble?
Perry’s fabrications are in the guise of toys, props, architecture and machines, utilizing everything from corbels to guitar tuners. Primary colors of red, blue and yellow pop against honeyed wood tones, accentuating form, scale and perspective.
He confesses he’s jealous of painters and artists who draw because they have an ability to create the illusion of depth and space. “That isn’t possible with sculpture, so how I work as an artist is in fragments, pieces and parts to make objects, to play with materials I see as part of a narrative,” he explains.
The viewer is a “witness to each theatrical scene, a moment suspended in time. In a sense, it’s like breaking that fourth wall in theater. I like being able to do that in sculpture,” says Perry, who is the shop technician and instructor at the University of Northern Iowa art department.
He earned his master of fine arts degree in sculpture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his bachelor’s degree from Storm Lake’s Buena Vista University. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. in more than 20 juried and group exhibitions, large-scale outdoor exhibitions and solo shows.
Perry also has completed numerous public art commissions, including “Alidade,” a 12-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture of an astronomer’s tool, installed at the Iowa River Landing in Coralville. He collaborated with artist and colleague Tom Stancliffe and Beth Nybeck on the massive 2010 Special Olympics National Games “Cauldron.”
“Dan’s work is so different from what we’ve installed in the past. It’s a fresh view of how our galleries can be used,” says WCA Curator Chawne Paige.
The materials Perry chooses to work with can be difficult, and he tells himself what he tells his art students. “Don’t be stopped or let yourself be stymied. You have to fight through it.”
Sources of inspiration includes personal life events, news blurbs, folklore and superstition. “It all gets filtered in, but I can start with one idea in mind and it changes at the end. I like the spontaneity of fitting together wood scraps or metal left over from other projects to create a new sculpture,” he adds.