Oliver Perry is about to open his latest exhibition of sculpture in the Sala el Pósito, a former granary on Plaza de la Constitución, in Vélez-Málaga.
The Pennsylvania-born artist is no stranger to exhibiting in Malaga; he first came to the province in 1968, aged just 27, and has stayed ever since.
By his own admission he was “very introverted” as a young man and “a loner”, so he decided to learn a second language, thinking it would help him to communicate. He chose Spanish and thought he’d go to Mexico to learn, but eventually settled on Spain, having decided that Mexico was “very big” and that if he was determined to learn the language then he may as well come to Spain itself. He says he had “no reference and no map”.
He boarded a cargo ship destined for Algeciras and from there made his way to Seville, Granada and then down through the Alpujarra and eventually to Nerja.
Ending up in Nerja was a complete coincidence. Oliver explains that he had taken a bus in Salobreña to Torre del Mar. However, the heat, combined with twists and turns on the N340 meant that many passengers were taken ill. “Icouldn’t stand it any more so Igot off at the next stop, which was Nerja,”he says.
Nearly 50 years later the area is still very much his home. He and his Belgian wife, Jenny, bought an old farmhouse near Frigiliana, which they have refurbished and added studios where Oliver creates his pieces.
His work has taken him around Europe and his very first exhibition, in the early 1970s, was in Washington DC, where his family moved to from Pennsylvania when he was a child. Since then he has exhibited in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Germany, Poland and again in the USA.
Oliver started out as printmaker after arriving in Spain and in 1999 turned his hand to sculpting iron. He continues to sketch but more recently is perhaps better-known for his sculptures; the most recognisable is arguably the work he was commissioned by Frigiliana town hall to do in partnership with his fellow sculptor, Robert Harding, for the Three Cultures Festival.
The pair came up with a design using Perry’s iron and Harding’s stainless steel, which integrated the Christian cross, Jewish star of David and Islamic crescent moon, and Oliver also sketched an image of the sculpture which is used on Three Cultures material and as a symbol around the town. The actual sculpture can be found at the bottom of Calle Santa Teresa, in the old town. Oliver says of the commission: “It was great to be asked to do the commission as two foreigners living in the town - it really felt like we were accepted by the community.”
Religious symbolism and in particular the cross is a strong theme in a lot of Oliver’s work, with a number of open cross sculptures, the idea of which he says represents faith “flowing,” allowing the believer “movement” within their belief. There are also smaller works dotted around the farmhouse representing Semana Santa iconography, including penitents bearing their crosses.
Another concept at the heart of Oliver’s work is the relationship between bulls and the female form. Oliver admits that the combination came about “by accident” when he was sketching what was supposed to be a woman and when he looked at it again he decided that his creation looked more like a bull. But the idea was born and Oliver has stuck with it in a lot of his work; the interface between bull and female symbolising “tension but not violence” as “the woman always has the upper hand in my work”,admits the artist.
This latest exhibition is called “Hierro y Nudos” or “Iron and Knots”, and includes a collection of pieces of iron which he moves around “spontaneously”and then adds pieces of string (or rope for larger works), which in his studio makes them look like a huge, fun interactive games, with many of the pieces taking on an almost human appearance, from entire families sunning themselves on deck chairs, to people working out in a gym.
Some of these, plus three of his larger pieces, which live in the land around his farmhouse, as well as collages, will form the exhibition in Vélez-Málaga, which opens on Tuesday 11 July and will run for a month.