06-14-12: Puyallup High graduate travels the world as wildlife artist
06-14-12: Puyallup High graduate travels the world as wildlife artist

Ryan Perry surrounds himself with exotic and endangered animals.

A Sumatran tiger stands ready to pounce in the living room of his Puyallup home, while a snow leopard eyes him from across the room.

Downstairs in his spacious art studio, the 1998 Puyallup High School graduate is surrounded by jaguars, elephants, waterfowl, cheetahs, toucans, rhinoceros, owls, grizzly bears, lynx, cougars, and eagles.

For Perry, art truly imitates life.

The 32-year-old Viking alumnus travels the world as part of his successful 14-year career as a professional wildlife painter.

Known nationally for his wildlife realism and detail, Perry’s collection ranges from a herd of elephants crossing a river at sunset to a jaguar peering out from vibrant green foliage in Costa Rica.

His travels have taken him as far away as Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Costa Rica, including four trips to Africa.

While he specializes in animals, Perry has also painted several portraits of people he has come into contact with during trips around the United States and the world.

One of those portraits, depicting a South African Zulu, won “Best in Acrylics” in a February art show in the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center at the Puyallup Fair & Events Center.

Perry showcases his work at about 10 art shows a year across the country, including a Safari Club International exhibit and auction each February that moves between Reno and Las Vegas. Proceeds from the show benefit a cause near to Perry’s heart.

“A lot of my paintings go to auction to raise money for wildlife conservation programs,” he said. “It’s important to me. It’s about creating an awareness.”

Perry’s original paintings and giclees (high-quality digital prints of the originals on canvas) have been displayed and for sale in art galleries in cities across the country. Locally, he has two original works and more than a half dozen giclees for sale at Puyallup Custom Frame & Art in downtown Puyallup.

He has traveled the world to photograph and, in some cases touch, his artistic subjects. Some are in captivity at zoos or game farms, while others are in the wild.

On safari three years ago to Zimbabwe, Perry came within inches of several elephants and reached out to touch the texture of the trunks to help him capture the realism in his paintings.

He also pet a cheetah at a South African cheetah rehabilitation center, where the animals are cared for and then released back into the wild. “They are really intense animals,” he said. “It was exciting to be up close.”

One of his favorite experiences, he said, was encountering a massive elephant herd crossing the Chobe River in Botswana — an experience he captured on camera and recreated in a painting.

Perry first learned to paint as a child, drawing on skills from his late father, Lin, who was both a painter and a photographer.

In first grade, Perry remembers wanting to illustrate books. By third grade, he started experimenting painting with oils, and by junior high and high school began to take an interest in painting wildlife.

He attended Wildwood, Ridgecrest, and Sunrise elementary schools, as well as Ferrucci Junior High, before becoming a Puyallup High Viking.

Perry received statewide acclaim for his work in high school by winning the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest of Washington state in his junior and senior years. He also won several other high school and community art contests.

Now more than a decade later, Perry is a volunteer judge for the duck stamp contest and reviews young student art entries. “I see it as my way of giving back,” Perry said.

Perry enrolled in drawing, painting, pottery, and photography classes throughout junior high and high school, served as president of the Puyallup High Art Club, and spent most of his free time in the art room.

He credits retired art teacher Candace Loring for helping him to grow as an artist.

Loring remembers Perry well and has one of his original paintings hanging in her home.

“It was fun to teach him,” Loring said. “He was very focused and would work and work with tiny little brushes to perfect whatever he was doing. Even then, other students would see his paintings and say, ‘Wow, how does he do that?’”

Loring added, “It is so rewarding to see someone achieve the kinds of things he has done with his art. It is rare.”

After graduation, Perry studied under acclaimed wildlife artists at the Bear Tooth School of Art in Montana. He has also enrolled over the years in art classes at Pierce and Green River community colleges and is taking a painting class this spring at Pierce College.

His work has won numerous awards and has been featured in national magazines such as Art Trends, U.S. Art, and Business Art and News. His painting of a elephant at a Masimara game reserve in Kenya, named “Big Tusker,” graced the cover of a 2006 issue of Safari Club International magazine.

Painting wildlife is challenging, he said, especially when doing small detail work such as waterfowl feathers or leopard spots.

When he starts a new painting, he spends about a week looking at reference books lined up in his studio or at photos he has taken in the field to determine angles, lighting, and texture.

Photo slides are strewn across the desk in his home office, where a South African lion sits perched on a cliff above his chair.

“I like the realism of painting wildlife and the nature around it, which is unique in its diversity,” Perry said. “Sometimes I lose track of time and will spend several hours on a painting. It takes a lot of patience, but it is a lot of fun. It’s a labor of love, really.”

To see more of Perry’s works, visit www.ryanperry.com.