If you haven’t heard of Perry Shall, you shall. He is an artist with a sense of humor and a rock and roll attitude. He even has a t-shirt that informs you “I’m An Artist, Too, Asshole.” Rock t-shirts, band t-shirts, concert t-shirts with a Perry Shall attitude have made him a much sought-after collector.
Where he was born and raised plays a big role in his sense of himself. “I was born and raised in Philly and have a lot of pride in that. Philly is a very working class city and I think that rubs off on new people that move here. I think there's this struggle to keep things going no matter what. If a house that does shows has to shut down, someone else will open up their basement to do them. If a venue closes, it forces someone else to open a new one. It's been more or less pretty consistent since I started going to shows around the age of 14. Philly isn't necessarily the most welcoming place to live but in the smaller community of punk and things associated with it, it IS very welcoming in most ways. So a lot of people feel like they have their small scene and that can be what they need to feel comfortable in the place, the city they live in. I've been on tour to a million places and not everywhere has it as good as we do. I think Philly will always have a strong music scene. I don't ever see that dying out.”
His artwork includes illustration, videos, collages and a lot more. He recently provided the cover art for Dan Auerbach’s new solo album. His first after leaving The Black Keys. He has done design work for Against Me, Pitty Sex, Diarrhea Planet, Modern Baseball, Wavves and Best Coast. He has a particular passion for rock t-shirts. He’ll be the first to tell you he has a t-shirt hoarding problem. You can see means it by checking out his Instagram feed.
“I believe t-shirts can be a form of communication,” he says. “You could be the shyest person in the world, see someone who has a shirt on of a band you like and you might turn into the most outgoing person ever. It’s a reason to strike up conversation. Everybody has that one t-shirt they can never get rid of. I live for that.”
His influences are many. “It really depends on what the art I'm creating is for.” He observes people and their quirks. He has an artist’s gift for actually noticing his surroundings, his mood, the work pf other artists, and really paying close attention to the music he listens to. As a musician himself, he is all ears when he discovers a band he loves. “Literally everything and anything makes me look differently at each thing I'm working on. I don't just do one thing. I do a lot of illustration work but also graphic design, collage, a little painting, etc., etc. So I think because of that, it's hard to pin down. It's all spontaneous in a lot of ways too.”
He also happens to be a self-described “very nice guy.” Despite the edgy, thought-provoking themes of his art work, he also promotes himself with the slogan “The Niceman Cometh.” Another of his rock t-shirt slogans is: "I May Be Ugly But I Sure Am Nice.” Not since comedian Bob Newhart created a nice man image have we seen niceness as such a prominent part of an artist’s brand. Shall wants to be a positive voice in a world in trouble. He prefers acknowledging that “shit is grim in this world” … and advocates an attitude that” doesn’t involve hate or helping the rich get richer.” Even his criticism of the status quo is expressed with humor and an underlying love of life.
When he works with others, he does his best work when he establishes good communication [through texts or in person] with the bands and artists who hire him. “It's much easier to shoot the shit so to speak and more easily get a feeling for the person or their lyrics or where they're coming from when you have that kind of connection. I've become pretty close with a lot of people I had never met before asking me to do their art. You spend so much time writing songs, recording, putting out records, playing shows, touring etc. Those things are there to express your deepest feelings, emotions, and thoughts to the entire world.”
He thinks art should be the same way. It’s the first thing that you learn about an artist in most cases—from a record or an article, even a band-t-shirt you notice someone wearing. It often prompts you to learn more about them and find out what is behind their art.
Once, as an experiment, he created an art show called PERRY WUZ HERE: AN "ART" SHOW - "AN EXPLOITATION OF A CROOKED MIND UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ICE CREAM." The humor was the hook that led people to look for meaning in his work.
Buttons, toys, pins, and other accessories, as well as movies, records, cartoons, and concerts are all in his toolkit. He collects comedians, movie and TV-themed memorabilia, all music genres, even soft drink-themed t-shirts.
He has in excess of 1200 t- shirts in his collection and a passion for each one he collects. His fantasy is to be buried with his rock, band, concert and music t-shirts—and whatever else he has around at the time. He wants a large hole to be filled with them, no coffin (“It’s a waste of money”). He wants a bed of shirts beneath him and then be covered by the rest of his t-shirt collection and, I assume a layer of dirt on top.
“Humor is very, very important to me,” says Shall. “I have to constantly poke fun at myself to get things done. I still get shit from people because I hate calling myself an "artist". A lot of it is self-deprecating and seems silly to people but I take it very seriously in a way. Not sure if that makes sense. I guess in order for me to feel like I'm creating great work, I have to hate myself enough to love it.”
Like many serious artists, he says it’s a matter of being their own toughest critic. As long as they aren’t so self-critical they can’t make art from it. “I'll draw sometimes and sit alone laughing at how bad it is until I can make it good. A lot of my humor comes from being a neurotic, Jewish, anxiety-ridden crazy person who obsesses over things whether they are funny, morbid, or sad. All that influence probably comes from growing up watching Pee Wee's Playhouse, Bullwinkle, The Simpsons, The Muppets, Ren & Stimpy, Beavis & Butt-head, and other shows where there is obviously a strong comedy aspect, mixed with some art form like animation, puppetry, or sculpture. It's all very clever, and witty but very original and creative. I loved them all as a kid and still enjoy them the same or more as an "adult". I don't like that stuff in an ironic way at all. I find them all to be very genius in so many ways and would 100% be a different person if they never existed.”
Stephen X Welch wrote of Perry Shall in Little Death Press:
"There's a thin line of visionaries that walk the line between humorous and horrific. They live in the spaces where the absurdity of life is embraced. They caricature until it's distant enough to be mocked, but at any moment could twist a hard left and drop you into a nightmarish scenario. Perry Shall walks proudly through these liminal spaces of the Id and Ego, plopping fascinating artifacts into our laps.”