When I finally arrive at UT I wander around to try to find Leach’s studio. From the foyer I see the glow of narcotic incandescent light washing into a long ambulatory. Only a gallery would spill that. It is silent in the after-hours. I have the sensation and trepidation of walking through a funeral parlor to a wake and seeing the pink saturnine light bathing the wallpaper from a side portal in the middle of the hallway and searching for an excuse to bypass it, to go spend time with mourners in the hallway, or to walk past without indulging in a glimpse into the room. A glimpse of the body casts moving, living memories in the crushed petals of a dry mauve flower, and dust. It introduces a lifeless dummy into their name’s evocation. Recalling their smile a brittle stitch-snapping leer arises; recalling an embrace I feel cold and satin. I had spent almost a solid eighteen months straight with Perry and then only saw him once for eight to ten hours since. I didn’t want to turn him into paper.
Even though I had seen him more recently, the way he haunts me is through the last time I saw him in Los Angeles. It maybe was mid-February, one month after my studies wrapped up. We had made plans to have lunch together. I met him at his house in Silver Lake. Instead of work my days were measured by the preindustrial drift of the sun. The shocking liberation of the days created such a monumentally sloppy month that seeing him again already felt like the seamless subduction of lapses in long friendships. We went to lunch at Fred 62 then back to his house to talk. Amy returned home and joined us in winter daylight and the white afternoon dimmed quickly. We lingered quite a while into the evening. Perry ran to Trader Joe’s and we cooked dinner and continued talking. In the first day of Perry’s studio he shared a truth with us that I remember in intent but not in phrasing. “As much as I will dedicate my time to you and your work, nothing will ever be as important to me as my own work.” This made faint sense to me until this night that I was able to engage Perry outside of our professional relationship. As I watched, somewhat separate, as though through the storefront at Fred 62 or the windows of the Kulpers’ house, his wasn’t a life passing or the drift of a pawn on capitalism, this too was an effort, a life project. Our free existence in this evening, merely living, was ‘The Work.’ I learned that there was work and ‘The Work.’ In the mind of a subscriber to the project of life, the wash of the senses was not a loss but a less filed amalgam, an impressionistic paste. ‘The Work’ was the critically detached, but retained, experience of life. The ongoing nature of the transformation of his life into his work caused the work to remain in flux by the moment. It seemed difficult to talk about, dumbed by an infinite buzz of voices like a tree in sun and breeze. His work drew people because it was alive as he lived. The paralyzing horror at finishing a piece or suite is overarching because it is the euthanasia of a string of memories. The unfiled sheet of mylar is the fulfillment of others’ idle wishes “that this beautiful day could last forever.” Coming from an academic setting where talking about one’s work was its realization, Perry’s indulgence in listening and the experiential vocality of his work characterized him more as a builder, a stoic practitioner, than an academic showman. Especially in the growing tendency of global culture to allow the unfiltered document of an experience to stand as an artifact, the physical transformation of a working life into something other than the original experience was an invitation more than the closed door of pastiche or capitalistic lifestyle baiting that comprised much of the rest of the decade’s work. Perry’s work became part of my life rather than a recognition that a life was merely occurring parallel to mine.
Of all that half-day’s conversation only the admonition that he left me with lingers, again in intent rather than phrasing. “Stay with your work, don’t let anything get in the way of it, there will be a lot of people and forces that see it as their right to change you or distract you, but you have to stay with it.” I thought, “of course I will, what could stop me on this journey?” But in retrospect, as I cast my eyes into the courtyard, I don’t see it as a call to take the vows, to eschew everything that didn’t express my thoughts directly in graphite on mylar, but a call never to relent in transforming all of those experiences into The Work. The things that get in the way should be digested; the things that feel warm on my neck should be admitted into the skein. Do not escape; indulge. It has been a rather crippling struggle. But when I sneak past the glass-walled gallery on to the stairs with an a nessuna cosa glimpse of drawings ranked, arranged, filed, their mineral eyes beginning to glisten, Perry’s admonition means something slightly different, “I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.”