Megan Perra is part naturalist, part illustrator with a background in zoology that happened to intersect with the visual arts during her last year at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan. “ I spent most of my life wanting to be a wildlife ecologist,” said Perra, “which you can see reflected in the subject matter of my work. Drawing was always this secondary thing to me – something I was good at and that I practiced, but never something I saw as a career path until I started screen printing in my last year of University. Then it was like, ‘woah, I have to keep doing this.’”
And that she did. Screen printing took Perra to residencies in far-flung places, including Alaska, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. Perra just returned from Thingeyri, Iceland, where she worked on a documentary project about arctic fox researchers and hunters, an experience that inspired many of her recent pieces.
“I got to meet the guy who shot one of the few polar bears that swam from Greenland to Iceland, and I’ll be exhibiting a piece that shows that bear. For my documentary project, I focused on research looking at the impacts of oceanic pollutants on Arctic foxes, and I’ve done a few prints related to that topic as well.”
Much of Perra’s work features animals in the wild, as screen prints, paintings, and even gyotaku-style relief prints made by inking a plant or animal surface directly to create a one-of-a-kind image. Screen printing’s complex process appeals to Perra. She builds as many as fifteen layers off of a base illustration, each one adding depth, nuance, and detail. A scientist at heart, Perra’s process isn’t so different than that of a field researcher.
The type of screen printing Perra does requires UV light to set, a technique that requires expensive and specialized equipment not practical for a home studio. Like a scientist returning to her lab, Perra takes copious sketches in the field, mocking out designs that she prints during concentrated sessions at a mentor’s studio in Vancouver, B.C. The results are meticulously crafted prints imbued with the wildness that inspired them.
“I work very hard on using art as a tool, folding research and storytelling into the images I create. I think it seems like such a deviation for people to see someone go from science to art, but actually they’re almost the same thing. Both fields observe and interpret the world, they just use different skills and tools.”
In addition to pieces from her recent trip to Iceland, The Bones We Keep will feature work from Perra’s residencies in Alaska and the Faroe Islands. She will also create an original mural on the Art Center East gallery walls. The public is welcome to observe her install the mural on June 25-28, 10:00am-Noon or 3:00-4:00pm. The Bones We Keep opens Friday, June 29 from 6:00-8:00pm.
Listen to a podcast about arctic foxes that Megan produced during her time in Iceland here, and read an article she wrote for Sierra Magazine describing a research expedition north of Sitka, Alaska here.
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