Ebbing out from Salt Lake City’s southern perimeter is an industrial wasteland. And although it may be the last place you’d look for an art gallery, in the case of Mike Peery’s Metal Maddness, this place feels very much like home.
Peery works with metal, any type of metal. He earns a living as a commercial welder and teaches welding and sculpting classes on the side. In his free time, he relieves his daily pressures by creating whimsical figurines out of scrap. When he’s feeling extra creative, he’ll delve into one of his finer, more deliberate productions. Ever since he was 5 years old and watched sparks fly for the first time, Peery has made metal the center of his own personal madness.
“Welding has always seemed to be the way I’ve made my living,” says Peery. “But, I wanted to go beyond a square frame, a rectangle, a circle. I wanted to go beyond the laws of engineering and mathematics.”
After spending the past 15 years living in the rat race of Los Angeles—where he was known simply as “Mad Mike”—Peery has moved his shop back home to Murray, where he grew up, in order to slow down and spend some quality time with his family. While various Angelenos collect his work and he’s represented by several art galleries in Southern California, Peery was more than happy to come back to a place he happily refers to as “heaven” by comparison.
Most of his pieces that litter the gallery, set between his office and workshop, are of the garden- art variety. Two-inch-tall green gremlins with bolts for eyelashes stand next to horses with chain for teeth. Certain pieces are even motorized, electrified and/or precariously perched on old casters—all of which adds to their charm.
“Half of my creations have been by accident,” says Peery. “I was always running into trouble on the job for something being out of square, or crooked. This one time I saw a guy weld an eyeball on a fence. Then I made this character out of a shovel, a tire iron and a tool belt—kind of a silly construction worker.”
Peery collects most of the material for his junkyard sculpture during the course of his daily workings—metal piecemealed from someone else’s trash or stuff left over from movie sets and restaurant designs. “Sometimes it’s on the side of the freeway, and I pull over and grab it,” explains Peery.
But his other work—work that isn’t thrown together as a mere distraction from his daily grind, work that can take months or years to complete—is a different story. If Peery’s garden art typically revolves around fantasy figures of dragons and monsters, his more dedicated pieces could be classified as Americana. When up to the challenge, Peery meticulously crafts old locomotives and classic Harley Davidsons. Focusing on the intricate metallic nature of the machines, he builds trains to a 1/32 scale that can weigh several thousand pounds and take over 800 hours to complete, as well as mini-motorcycles that feature working parts and embedded lights.
Still, more than the Americana and the fantasy works, there is one piece in particular that pervades Peery’s thoughts. Born of an elderly stranger’s 20-year dream, The statue of St. Francis is a piece that Peery readily admits to not being able to replicate.
The saint stands over 8 feet tall and took Peery over two years to complete while, coincidentally, living in Los Angeles’ St. Francis Hotel. Half-heartedly commissioned by the old dreamer—he never ended up actually paying for it—and built as a self-imposed penance by Peery, the saint needed three years of rusting and 60 coats of sealant to achieve the appropriate look.
“I was living in this hotel full of people on welfare, drug addicts and hookers,” says Peery. “Beyond the fact of just building a saint, it became a sort of spiritual process for me. And since he was such a miracle, I couldn’t imagine moving anywhere without him.
“Maybe one day, after I get settled in here, I’ll put him out on the sidewalk to watch over the place.”