by: Scott Campbell
When asked to describe the style of his work, Steve Perrault responds pensively, “Well, it’s realism.” And then the 57-year-old Susquehanna Township resident explains what that means for him. Because, in spite of the representational imagery contained within his acrylic paintings, their overall surrealistic identity compels one to seek meaning beyond what is observable.
“Almost all of my paintings include these basic elements…open space, structural forms, blue sky, landscape and a simple red bench,” he says. “The bench is an invitation to the viewer to enter and pass through the space that is portrayed in the painting.”
Perrault has been a full-time painter for 16 years. In that time, the theme of his work has changed little. Restraint and simplicity have always been his guiding lights.
It is not unlike that of the historical surrealists, in particular, Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), who also employed architectural forms, light, and perspective to good effect. Chirico’s paintings, however, frequently suggest an underlying disquietude. Perrault’s are uplifting and positive.
“There is always a ‘way out’ for the viewer,” he says. “It might be a low window, a door or separation between structures. The interiors in my earlier paintings were more enclosed. Over time, they opened up…the roof came off, windows got bigger and so forth.”
A metaphysical essence pervades the artist’s work, often embodied by a distant tree or topographical feature. “In several religious traditions, the tree has great spiritual significance,” he says. “Its roots are anchored in the earth, but its limbs reach toward heaven.” Shadows are presented in values of gray, a color that Perrault says is “the most spiritual of all colors precisely because it has no associations.”
Perrault’s process is a meticulous one. “I start with a sketch of some interior that interests me,” he explains. “Then, I construct a three-dimensional model of it from foam core..”
Perrault’s process is a meticulous one. “I start with a sketch of some interior that interests me,” he explains. “Then, I construct a three-dimensional model of it from foam core, after which the model is photographed in full sun from various angles. I enjoy that part of the process as much or more than painting.”
The selected photo is transferred, with the inevitable alterations, to primed Belgian linen canvas to begin the painting. Perrault works exclusively with Liquitex colors and mediums. He uses a variety of natural and synthetic bristle brushes, mostly flats. The seamless blending that characterizes his work is done with brushes only, no small feat considering the rapid drying time of acrylics. Perrault mixes matte medium into his colors, giving them a slight transparent consistency. He then applies three layers of paint throughout each composition to achieve the desired opacity. Blue drafting tape, burnished against the canvas surface, is used to achieve flawless edges.
When Perrault decided to pursue art by earning a master’s in art education from Northern Illinois University, the Minneapolis native had already been a monk in a Catholic religious order for 13 years, and a psychotherapist for 10.
“While I was in a monastery in upstate New York, I was able to take some classes at Parsons School of Design,” he notes. “It was the most beneficial art instruction that I ever received.”
His high school teaching career in the city of Chicago lasted only two years. “It was damage control,” he says. “If no one got killed, it was a good day.” Ironically, teaching lessons in one-point perspective helped to lay the foundation for his subsequent painting motif.
Perrault and his partner, John Sygielski, moved to Harrisburg from Portland, Ore. in 2011 when Sygielski became president of Harrisburg Area Community College. Although nationally renowned, Perrault is not yet represented by a local gallery.