There’s something slightly dark and poetic about the work of local artist Kristy Perez — who’s well known for her realistic drawings of skulls and bones but she also sculpts, paints, designs and collaborates with her partner Britt Lorraine on sets and concepts for contemporary dance pieces.
Unsurprisingly, that dark, poetic spirit also pervades poems one might rightly read as text-based extensions of Perez’s visual art. During a recent visit to Perez’s Southtown studio, she suggested her practice of writing poetry likely stemmed from the attention she gives to the titles of her pieces — expressive little tidbits like Forever Is Longer Than Us, Opportunity Is Passing You By, and The Baddest Bitch.
Born in San Antonio, Perez moved with her mother and stepfather to Bryan–College Station during her childhood and graduated high school in Gonzalez. Following a stint at the University of North Texas, Perez returned to San Antonio and enrolled in art classes at San Antonio College. “SAC was amazing. I just learned so much about myself and I was ready to go ... so I stopped going to school and started making stuff,” Perez explained. To support herself, Perez took a job at Anne Zanikos Art Conservation, where she spent six years restoring museum frames and polychrome wood objects (think church statues). Among the techniques Perez mastered while working alongside Zanikos, the application of gold leaf slowly but surely found its way into her own work.
At its core a humorous juxtaposition of materials, Perez’s sculptural piece Invitation Only — a supersized rawhide bone gilded in gold leaf — commented on hurdles she anticipated when first breaking into the San Antonio art scene, but also announced her commitment to becoming part of it. Curated into her first group show by late local legend Chuck Ramirez in 2006, Perez earned an Artist Foundation of San Antonio grant in 2007 and has exhibited consistently ever since — including solo shows at Blue Star Contemporary (2008’s “A Comfortable Distance”), Sala Diaz (2009’s “All That Stands Between Us”), Unit B Gallery (2012’s “Once My Dark Was Cool”) and Hello Studio (2014’s “Rouge”).
In 2009, Perez met Lorraine at a function and — even though they were both in committed relationships — fell for one another quickly and started making work together soon thereafter. Presented in 2010 under a stairway in the McNay’s Stieren Center for Exhibitions, the duo’s collaborative project We Are a Handful entailed Lorraine performing an hour-long, movement-based piece with 11 cumbersome sandbags Perez gilded with gold leaf. Since then, the couple — working under the moniker Saintlorraine — have captivated audiences with an epic (non-stop) eight-hour interpretation of the Ballet Russe’s Rite of Spring and site-specific installations at CAM Perennial exhibitions in 2013 (Giving to Get) and 2017 (VERTEX).
Currently, Perez is busy at work on “The Giving Distance,” a solo exhibition opening July 27 at the Southwest School of Art. In addition to two large-scale portraits (one of herself, one of Lorraine), one of the show’s key elements is a bound book to be printed locally by Hare & Hound Press. During our visit, Perez was in the midst of finalizing image selection for the book, which will combine minimalist, mixed-media abstractions, representational drawings and poems. Regardless of the medium, Perez admits themes of love, desire, beauty, volatility — and sculptural elements like suspension and pull — “just keep revealing themselves” in her work. Hanging above the bed she shares with Lorraine, a painting titled Bitter Livers pops up in our conversation on more than one occasion. Reminiscent of a blackboard bordered with dashes of hot pink, the piece functions as something of a metaphor for Perez and Lorraine’s relationship. While the painting might not directly factor into “The Giving Distance,” a poem it inspired likely will — perhaps hand-written on a gallery wall. In essence a love poem, the written version of Bitter Livers mirrors much of Perez’s visual practice — cutting through unnecessary noise to offer something minimalist, heartfelt and true.