Okotoks: Michael Perks selected as Best New Artist in Western Showcasee
He’s not a blacksmith, but Okotoks area artist Michael Perks knows all about working metal and heat to perfection.
Perks put his talent on display at the 2011 Calgary Stampede and he was selected as Best New Artist in the Western Art Show for his collection of distinctive metal statues, wall hangings and other pieces.
For Perks the honor was unexpected, but greatly appreciated. “When I came in here I didn’t really know what to expect because I come from larger scale objects,” Perks said.
A tour of the artist’s web site, www.metalperks.com, shows off many of his bigger pieces including a striking rust coloured bull filled with individually crafted gears. Alternatively, his booth at the Stampede was dominated by smaller pieces, which had never been shown to the public before.
The collection included a striking metal raven known as “Nevermore” and a six-foot-four Cowboy inlaid with clocks and gears titled “When Time Stood Still”. There were also several examples of wall art including recreations of Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country and the Three Sisters mountain peaks located just outside Canmore.
Perks said he was glad to see the amount of attention his art attracted at the Stampede.
“We’re something different,” he said. “We’re not a bronze or painting it’s almost an entirely different medium people have never seen.”
From stainless steel and mill grade steel to brass, copper and aluminum, Perks works in a variety of metals. He generally uses both plasma and oxy-acetylene torches to cut, shape and detail his art pieces.
About 24 years ago he said he decided he wanted to be an artist, but a brief foray into art school was derailed by his realization he couldn’t paint, draw or work in clay which were the only creative disciplines taught at the time. He ended up going a mechanical route. Perks got his millwright ticket and for more than two decades he worked in a variety of roles on the ski hills of Lake Louise for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. He still serves as an advisor to those operations heading out each year to help them with their ski season startup.
Once he married and settled in Calgary with his wife Claire Thompson-Perks he opted for a career change that would involve far less back and forth to the Rocky Mountains. “I decided to start up my own business,” Perks said. “It started with Little Monkey Metal Works, which I still run. It’s a custom metal work that includes things like railings and fire pits more on a production scale. They’re all my own designs that I brought to it.”
While building up the reputation of Little Monkey, he started to do art pieces on the side for his own enjoyment. “My wife was the one who said let’s try and sell this,” he said. About three years ago the skilled metal artisan began to sell some of his pieces out at Millarville Market. Now with his Best New Artist selection at the Calgary Stampede he looks to get his work into a gallery or two to increase his growing profile as a working artist.
“I am surprised everyday where I’m at,” he said. “I guess the best part about it is my wife Claire. She’s helped me to do things that I want to do. It’s not just Michael Perks the artist. It really is Michael and Claire. It’s not art until I bring it here (to the Stampede). She’s the driving force behind all that.”