The Calgary Stampede’s art show has rekindled Foothills metal artist Michael Perks’ joy of showcasing his work.
“It feels awesome to actually be showing my artwork again, to actual people and not just over the Internet,” said Michael Perks of Little Monkey Metalworks.
The show isn’t just a chance to show off his own work, Perks said, but an opportunity to mingle with other artists.
“Just to actually see all these other artists again, these are friends that you only see once a year,” he said.
“It’s getting a group of people together, where you come up with new ideas, new avenues for your art that you’re going to show.”
While he understands public hesitation around large gatherings, Perks is confident and optimistic going into the large show.
“At the end of the day, it’s happening, so you’re just looking for that energy, that human contact again,” he said. “We’re all humans that want to actually be around other people.
“I think this year is more a celebration of being with other people, something that we lost for a year.”
The absence from public exhibition did not mean an absence of creation, he added.
“My art has changed, my art will always change, I always want to be evolving,” he said.
The Foothills-dwelling metal artist kept creating works, albeit with more natural inspiration.
A lifelong hiker, trail runner, paddler, and a course builder for Lake Louise Ski Resort, the Canadian Rockies are Perks' favourite refuge.
“With this time of being locked up, I got to do more of what made me happy,” he said.
“If I’m out running on mountains you’ll kind of see that popping out in my art.
“It’s more playing in the Alberta and BC wilderness, places that make me happy that don’t give me COVID.
“You see more skiing in my booth, you see things that when I needed to feel better, I’d go and draw a picture of a skier.”
Inspiration wasn’t the only catalyst of change for Perks, but also scarcity, a common theme across many industries during the pandemic.
“Along with my art, the products I’m using have changed, thanks to COVID,” he said. “Certain materials are just not as easily accessible anymore, so I had to evolve and change different techniques.”
The centrepiece of Perks’ exhibit at the art show, a soaring bird trailing metal feathers in a 6 foot wide spiral, is exemplary of the trials of creating in the pandemic.
“That’s actually made out of scrap metal that I cut out of other things,” the artist pointed out.
“Why? Because aluminum has increased so substantially in price that I had to take all my scraps and melt them down to reuse.
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.”
This meant six months of slowly adding pieces to the statue as scraps became available from other projects.
“The statue just evolved as I went along," he added.
This year’s iteration of the art show is also unique in that it only features Canadian artists, as cross-border travel remains difficult with a booth full of art in tow.
“When you walk into the Stampede’s art show, you’re looking at what Canada is,” Perks said. “You’re seeing a true representation of what Canadian art is.
“This is the West. This is the land we live in. It’s pretty cool to see it through the eyes of all these different artists showing here and part of it just makes you want to go home and draw more.”
Watching patrons’ look upon his work has brought a renewed satisfaction.
“To actually see a person's face when they look at something that I've created, and see what the different emotions or different feelings that come from that,” Perks said.
“It's an intangible thing that I've missed for a year and a half now.”