My good friend of 40+ years, Mark James Perry, passed away in 2013. He was a fascinating character, equal parts legend, myth and tall-tale.
I first met him on my doorstep when I was in my early 20s, after a mutual friend had told him I was looking for a photographer. Mark was a roughly handsome young man whose crooked nose attested to many barroom brawls.
I recall entering a bar on North Division, Spokane, with Mark, wherein he immediately made for the men’s room. He was followed by another guy, and I soon heard Mark yell “Bill call the cops.” As I entered the restroom I saw that the man had Mark pinned against the wall and was cuffing him as he said to me “I am the cops!” As it turned out, Mark had been screwing the cop’s girlfriend, and that apparently warranted an arbitrary arrest for loitering.
At that time he was experimenting w/ a carbon printing process that he had essentially reinvented from scratch. He continued experimenting throughout his life, pioneering methods of manipulating images digitally, and outputting them to lo-fi inkjet printers that he had modified and tinkered with. He founded The Dialogue Gallery, occasionally a real space, but more often located in cyberspace at L5.com, a domain that he controlled for many years.
Mark's life was never easy or conventional. He lived variously in a cave near Metaline Falls, in Spokane, in Marysville, in Pioneer Square Seattle, on various boats, skiffs, catches, barges, tents and rafts. He was often slightly on the other side of what was strictly legal, but maintained a humane attitude. He shed "things" like a snake sheds skin, sometimes his own things, sometimes those of others. I lost many paintings, drawings and some cash over the course of many years knowing him, but always came around to the view that I valued his friendship more than the stuff I lost. And truth be known, Mark bailed me out more than a few times.
Mark made friends easily, and going to one of his parties was like entering a Dickens novel; there were high state functionaries, police officers, artists, movie producers, homeless people, hookers, teeny-boppers, entrepreneurs and lost souls. His large and lofty personality was still capable of being small and petty when necessary. He was a photographer, a sailor, a con artist, carny, UNIX sysadmin, raconteur, broken romeo and enfant terrible. I will never again know a person as complicated and enigmatic as Mark James Perry. I'll miss him for sure, but will never regret that I knew him and called him a friend.
– William E. Elston
Mark’s Sketches as told or Shown to Adele Armstrong over the seven years we were friends and lovers. After that he never spoke to me again but once on Washington Street in front of Tina’s digs where she’d opend the shop there by my old buildiing where we first met.
Mark was born on May 3 1942 in Spokane Washington. in the Year of the Water Horse. His paternal grandparents were George and Ruby, who helped raise him. “All the men in his family had been killed in Wars” excepting his Grandfather and his uncle, his dad’s brother who was part of the F-7 Club (?), & introduced him to shutter-bugging and to Ansel Adams who Mark worked for as a young helper out on a shoot with Ansel who worked the NW in the 1950’s. Mark’s mom, “a Marshall of Virginia”,16 when she had him and then another little brother, abandoned them both to the grandparents and ran off, going home back east where according to Mark she married her cousin who became a brigadier general. His dad, formerly a piano player with Ernest Tubb’s band touring the NW, came home from WWII with shell shock, “never played piano again” and married a Wicked Stepmother and drank. They moved all over the NW; Mark had lived in Seattle (Magnolia) as a child, and Taft, Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast where he at age twelve later a famous sailor and ship-wrecker of old boats, had his first Sea-adventures with the fishermen. That stepmother beat Mark’s little brother and when she raised a hand against Mark, he then 14 and already man sized , “he did not run away- he was shown the door”. Mark was very vengeful and I do not doubt he devised a clever retaliation more than once against her.
When i met him at age 50 he weighed 220 all muscle and stood 6’2”. Extremely cunning and of exquisitely gifted speech and mind, there was a streak of madness in his obdurately strong survivor’s personality. He was skilled in kung fu, boxing and Muay Thai.
The boy Mark headed down to the California Oil Fields and promptly broke his arm. Homeless and of still tender age he was taken in by a kind family of Mexican migrants who took good care of him. Forever after he had a special feeling for the Mexicans and hispanics in general, but Mark was always warm for the dispossessed the beggar the homeless the whore. He hated junkies and his little abused brother had become one. He seldom spoke of him. Strangely later in life he married a recovered addict. He always believed in his healing and Overcoming powers and so perhaps took joy in helping his lovely young wife stay off heroin.
Roaming the country he did have one fond aunt, his mum’s sister who took him in awhile and told him where to find his mom. When he showed up there he was unwelcome- a motif of his life, and given the choice “Army or Navy”. They lied about his age and got him i n the navy i guess it would be 1958. In dress whites and peacetime he was part of a show tour of Ports of Call on the USS CONSTITUTION, which was one of two tattoos in faded bluish ink done with bamboo skewers while drunk in far east ports. The other tatt was ‘Lucy’ I called her, on his forearm, a pretty little gal in a sarong. Then it was Nam- wartime and he was there on the river gunboats. A bronze star and other medals given to Vets for Peace i was told. and then- Court martial! Out of the service and to Thailand for a year, if you wonder where he studied the martial arts. Tho’ he’d wasted time in terrible girly bars etc, he did not waste all of his time in Asia. I once saw him spring into action when a bum threatend me on the streets of Pioneer Square. having lightly kicked the bum in the stomach folded him up like a pretzel and sat him firmly down on his bottom all with one toe and hand while eating the spring roll we had just bought at the Pioneer Square grocery with the other hand. He finished it on the way home. “I didn’t hurt him” he said repeatedly.
Once on the bus an ugly crowd of young crackhead gangsters were frightening the workers on their way home, on the back of the bus. Mark stood up and well over twice their age and five times outnumbered asked them quietlly if “they wanted a taste of white meat.?” They fell silent. Another time he’d hurried home from the 1st avenue bar he used to sell pot at to pay for his stash, have a beer, collect information and friends, as he’d been sneered at in “the can, by a young man who laughed at his gray ponytail ‘old hippie’. Mark smiled at him as he coldcocked him and left him on the floor, the decided he’d better leave his beer unfinished and get out of there.
That was when he had his Grand Central studio sublet from Joel. We had a nice bed and alcove room under the stairs and a front room and i worked days. So i would awaken and hear hiim come in with his latest group he’d brought home to sell an 1/8 to and regale, and the stories i’d overhear were unbelieveable. Once it was a couple of guys, the one had just got out of the State prison and he wanted to break parole and get out of the country and into Canada. Mark sketched him out a safe crossing. Then out he’d go into the night to the bar again and come back across the street with his next friends/customers and gossip- it was a village life in the ‘hood there where we lived and Mark had been around a long time and knew it seemed almost everyone who was anybody or certainly had something to say about them.
He’d come back busted flat from an Alaska adventure on an old boat and his first studio he could afford was the cheapest storage unit down on First Avenue south. You had to be in by six PM or you were locked out for the night. Im sure he offered shelter to other homeless friends there. ANd was scheming and working. He was always working he was never working.
He’d worked for Motorola. He’d shot pix for the Chicago Trib, and the Berkeley Barb. He’d met Janis Joplin and Vincent Price and i mean hung out with them. at Vincent’s house. He’d been offered film work, a very handsome man despite his broken nose. He was the old man of the Mountain whose hair turned white overnight, up on Mt St Helens’ when it blew. Unlikely? i saw the articles in the Klikitat paper and pix of him, walking off the remains of the mountain and into town -all he asked for was a sandwich please.
He’d stolen a child, a baby girl whose mother was a confederate of his junkie brother’s, a doomed neglected little girl, and given her to a good lady who had lost her baby. Unlikely? i was there when the baby girl now a woman looked him up in the late 1990’s and came over to Pioneer Square from the east side to thank him for saving her life. and giving her to her wonderful mother.
Mark said he dropped out of physics because of smoking pot- imagine if he had continued on the impossible- for- him strait and narrow. A remarkably brilliant man and of consult to the Super-computer guys who had a shop down First Avenue. He was a hardware and software man and a talent scout for people of worth that he could work with, coming up with some amazing young men and women. One of the beginning prospectors in the open gold fields of the world wide web which did not originally exist when i met him, just Darpa’s internet. it was ugly. Machine language. Mark excelled. He could remember code like nobody. Long strings of numbers.
He fell in with a gang of roughnecks at one time, tough guys gunslingers county boys and i know he was the only one there who’d studied physics.One of them “Bill” became like a brother to him and Mark cried at Bill’s lovely daughter’s wedding -she was an adoptive niece to him and Mark stood for her as a father. Bill had died untimely likely drunk on whiskey. Part of the Spokane/ eastern WA redneck side of his life. When the niece had some real trouble with the man she married who turned out very bad, Mark generously and sincerely offered to her to take him out for a boatride on the Sound and Not Bring him Home (Alive) .Though she graciously declined. He would have happily done for her. he really cared about that Bill. Mark knew both valorous deaths of wartime and had seen other wrongful deaths or are they both the same thing? Had he killed? -perhaps -but that was not what he’d done time for.
He had once done prison time and did not want anyone to know. As i’d done a stretch in federal prison for marijuana related felony it was a bond between us. If you dont know the Other Side of the Wall you dont know and so Mark i believe was busted for some kind of non violent crime, however, he was an avid learner and studied at the feet of forgers etc in the Joint. This came out on our first or second meeting, i down in his studio at the Washington Park building after Cristel introduced us on the corner of First and Washington a very fine late June day in 1993. By the fourth of July we were lying under the stars in each other’s arms at the Park on Bainbridge island declaring our love for each other. Myself recently separated from my husband and looking for the love of a good man. I had no idea what i was getting into.
It was worth everthing i suffered which- one did suffer with Mark.
– Adele Armstrong
It’s not easy to comprehend someone like Mark Perry. He is profoundly simple in an extremely complicated way – or is it profoundly complicated in an extremely simple way? What I can say is that he is a ‘one-off’ in my experience – a role portrayed by actors but rarely lived so thoroughly as by Mark. He was the character that pretenders try not to be out of. Disgustingly unkempt reeking of tobacco, charismatic and non-materialistic – so many adjectives to try to touch on his particular kind of sanity when words will fail to grasp the figure of the man, the cut of his jibe. What a guy; a spinner of tales with a cinematic face of a salty-dog-crusty-ancient mariner as if designed by a Hollywood makeup genius. He had earned bragging rights for every scar and character-riddled wrinkle. He regaled with the stories of danger, intrigue, and catastrophe from Mount St. Helens to the near misses and fast escapes from impending doom like real live action hero cum antihero. He had the power to be attractive and repulsive, high-minded and low-minded, sincere and totally bullshit – encompassing the opposites of a whole range of qualities.
Of the Art, his profound love of the female body in all its permutations really compelled the hours of working the photos over pixel by pixel – adjusting in minute detail with some kind of crazy love. The models should know they’re likely never to be looked over so closely in their lives, flattered with every pixel of attention. I offended him once by giving some marketing advice suggesting that some good publications would swoon over his work but probably for the aesthetic T & A more than the genius of brilliant technique. “Ouch” he glared at me telecommunicating “No t&a. This is Art!” in no uncertain terms. And it was pronounced Art.
A line of possible clichés invades my mind. One man’s saint is another man’s sinner; One woman’s disappointment is another’s liberation; he who walks a straight course through life see’s nothing of the terrain. Mark would have a cliche to add as a good and committed Irishman with a great capacity for the product of the vine. Soldier on dear golden-fingered friend. You’ve invaded, inspired and confounded plenty of minds for one lifetime.
– Richard Spaulding