Bicycle Fine Art artist Neal Perbix is deeply influenced by the physical space and materials surrounding him. Focusing on elements that introduce themes of texture, Neal creates art that not only redefines drawing but also the artist’s relationship to both his native city of urban Minneapolis and the people who live there.
After graduating college in the early 2000s, Neal sought to push the boundaries of his formal three-dimensional design training and began working with more non-traditional materials. As a young artist entering the workforce and starting a new phase in his professional life, Neal began to realize that this shift needed to be accompanied by a new artistic direction. He began to apply his sculptural background and technical knowledge of craft to introduce new productions, which he refers to as ‘assemblages.’ A major transition in his personal life, graduating with a BFA in sculpture and furniture design, was thereby accompanied by a shedding of his previous interest of three dimensions in favor of two. These assemblages consisted of found materials which Neal appropriated and applied to his art making process.
He remarked that he was intrigued by ‘Scrappers,’ people who roam the streets in search of industrial waste in the form of sheet metal and the like. These Scrappers then recycle their finds in exchange for a fee. Neal, like so many great artists before him, decided to incorporate these found scraps and tactile pieces of his daily life and local culture into his art.
Appreciating the resourcefulness of Scrappers, Neal opted to emulate their gritty process and began roaming the streets in search of interesting raw materials. Back in his studio, he would affix these scraps to canvases or wooden boards, as well as draw or paint on, and otherwise alter. It was this process of scrapping, combined with his background in sculpture, that eventually led Neal to develop what has become his signature artistic style.
In addition to creating fine art, Neal currently works as a general contractor; a position that also serves as a point of inspiration. These two seemingly disparate fields unite in a way that mutually informs one another, the contradiction of which he feels is a crucial element of his creative process. Working in the construction business, Neal is able to draw inspiration from his “day job” and incorporate its industrial methods into his fine art practice. No longer needing to scavenge the local dump for supplies, Neal is able to bring the materials he works with in a professional setting back to his studio. During the demolition of a kitchen, Neal might catch a glimpse of a partially destroyed cabinet and make a mental note of the way it was painted and the way it looked before continuing along with his project. These moments of inspiration come to him throughout his day, prompting him to describe his contracting experience as almost meditative. He is then able to take the fruits of his labor to his studio; a space free from the constraints of clients and zoning regulations, where he is able to experiment, play, and create without limitations.
The relationship between Neal’s professional pursuits is more than just metaphorical. Looking at Neal’s finished artwork, the viewer can clearly see the traces of the artist’s technical knowledge gained from his background in construction, particularly in the way he incorporates industrial materials with complete control and mastery; always superbly crafted and often reminding one of the elements of a home. There is an interesting dynamic that comes into play when materials typically used in shelving or furniture finishes are used in an artwork that is then in turn, hung in a living room. It gives the impression of unified aesthetic to the room that is difficult to achieve when using more traditional fine art materials.
As is fitting for someone whose work and art are so closely related, Neal’s studio is in his house, and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves the lifestyle of living with his work, perpetually surrounding him and thus always on his mind. He is constantly reminded of its presence and if he experiences an impromptu moment of inspiration, he is able to get up in the middle of the night and make adjustments to his work that just can’t wait until the morning.
While he has ventured into more conventional two–dimensional fine art media, such as acrylic paint or graphite powder, Neal’s trademark style continues to rely heavily on industrial tools and techniques. He has said that while he does enjoy painting, lately, has been using the medium more sparingly. More often than not, he finds himself returning to the tools of his professional trade: tape, routers, precision cutters, etc.
Neal’s mature style is the result of years of experimentation, development, and practice. His work often incorporates line as a central element, which from someone who graduated with a concentration in furniture design, could come as a surprise. Line drawings are typically reserved for the most academic of draftsmen, but Neal strives to subvert the art historical significance of line drawings for his own artistic ends. The lines in Neal’s work might at first seem to be the gestural and spontaneous records of a meandering hand drifting over a canvas; but in actuality, his process is meticulously planned and precise. His work might conjure up the styles and techniques of the Abstract Expressionist action painters, or the neurotic scribbling of a young Cy Twombly, but Neal isn’t interested in their philosophy of bursts of emotional creativity made manifest on the picture plane.
By contrast, his work is often the result of a painstaking process of cutting, sawing, taping, re-taping, and measuring his materials. So while they at first give the impression of bursts of energy, they were actually created after a series of sketches and a labor-intensive process. This contradictory portrayal of energy as a static phenomenon is a central component of his work.
Neal has said that his work comes out of a place of both idleness and restlessness. He describes a couple defining experiences, that he had as a young boy, which would later influence his process; a time watching his mother on the phone, scribbling notes to herself in messy handwriting that was utterly illegible to anybody but her. And another, while in class as a high school student, looking up bleary-eyed at a droning teacher and aimlessly moving his pencil across the paper. Out of these reflections, Neal’s work can be seen as both a physical record of his restless energy as well as a more abstract representation of the act of idleness itself. He often refers to the relevance of language in his work. One influential parallel to Neal’s work is his interest in Brice Marden’s Epitaph series from the late 1990s. Marden has described his own work as being informed by his interest in Japanese calligraphy.
Sharing a similar energy is Neal’s Untitled (2014), but rather than use ink on paper, Neal opts for more non-traditional means, using gesso on masonite as his “vellum” and a router as his “pen”. For his part, though, Neal prefers to look inward for the relevance of language and tries to remain unclouded by the work of those who came before him. For Neal, the connection to this language comes primarily from those early childhood and highschool memories.
Having mastered the technique for creating his well known tape drawings, Neal has recently been moving in new and exciting directions with his art. Continuing to address themes and motifs that are constant in his work, Neal approaches these elements with renewed fervor.
Half Truths (2016) represents a newer conversation in Neal’s work. It is his first work utilizing the unprimed linen of his canvas as a medium for his lines. To create this piece, the focal point for his subject was centered in the negative space produced by not painting his canvas. Analyzing his work in the context of language, he is creating words from a lack, allowing the supposed background color of white to frame and thus create the impression of meaning. When looking at this piece, the first thing that makes this painting stand out from his other known work is that the bottom half of the composition is purely white. Foregoing more Marden parallels, what’s intriguing about this piece is that even though
Neal’s trademark looping lines stop halfway down the canvas, you can’t help but clearly imagine their presence below. The implied symmetry and continuity of his lines direct the viewer to fill the absent space, one to clearly see what those lines would have been.
Neal did in fact originally cover the whole canvas with lines, but then felt that the piece looked too resolved and decided to white out the lower portion. Interestingly, he chose to use a slightly different white than the tone he used to delineate his lines. The result is a subtle and slightly disorienting dissonance between the top and bottom halves that disrupts the seemingly tranquil appearance of the composition. The use of the diptych is a key element to note. Rather than relegate the work to a traditional single canvas, Neal opts for two, further emphasizing the idea of dissension. Instead of seeing one complete image, there is a break in between the two canvases, making the viewer take a moment to realign the image. When speaking about this work, Neal once again brings up language, but this time in a very different context.
Looking to elements of street culture, Neal cites street graffiti as another influential force. He described watching the process of property owners trying in vain to ‘buff out’ graffiti on their walls by painting over the tags. What’s interesting to him, Neal says, is when they don’t get the original color of the wall quite right, in their attempts to clean their facades. The result is again that feeling of uneasy tension created by two competing tones of a neutral ground that are intended to work together. In this way, Neal again reveals the parallels between his artwork and language. His lines can be read in the tradition of graffiti, communicative but usually impenetrably unintelligible, whitewashed out with the wrong shade of purifying white.
Neal Perbix’s work is energetic and meditative, compelling to look at for just a glance and incredibly detailed when inspected closely. Working beyond the average utilization of construction materials, Neal repurposes and challenges the role of such tools in a fine art capacity. Encompassing his role as a dynamic artist, Neal continues to use his Minneapolis influences such as the Scrappers, to redefine what is considered a drawing or painting. As he continues to push the boundaries with non-traditional materials, new works are in progress and available through Bicycle Fine Art. We cannot wait to see what Neal has in store in the near future.