Tucked away in a winding basement of the O K Hotel in Seattle, Perry Porter sits on a black couch and looks at the art that fills the room.
Women of color proudly gaze out from their spots on the walls — some from canvases or pieces of wood leaning against one another, others from stacks of pages on a table, their watery bodies finally dry.
The 29-year-old man, who grew up in Spanaway, works with watercolor, his first painting medium, and acrylic. He paints on canvas, paper, walls and sometimes in warehouses or on stage in front of hundreds of people. Sometimes, his painting performances include his own music.
After a lot of hard work and perseverance, Porter is living his dream. The public will get a chance to see the results next on Aug. 10 when Porter performs with Romaro Franceswa at Fawcett Hall at Alma Mater in Tacoma.
‘I could figure it out’
Porter, though, didn’t sell his art to Lynch or Jones until he became a full-time artist about three years ago. He previously worked as a full-time ramp agent for Southwest Airlines and part-time at Pinot’s Pallete.
“I always had a full-time job, but I always treated art like it was a job,” Porter said over a basket of fish and chips at Ivar’s on Alaskan Way. “Any time I clocked out of my (full-time) job, I would mentally clock in (to art) and had at least 4 hours a day.”
Porter said he learned to discipline himself from his time as part of the self-described trap/punk group Sleep Steady, but it was while he was working on his album “Paper Moon” in 2012 that he began experimenting with painting.
“I was needing someone to start doing artwork for me, and I couldn’t find what I wanted to at the price I wanted to pay,” Porter said. “I remember one day I (saw) an artist named Lora Zombie, and I just fell in love with her art. I really got obsessed with it — to the point I said, ‘I think I can do something like that.’”
Porter said he bought two books on watercolor, a Sakura Koi watercolor kit and a few brushes.
He never looked back.
“I knew if I just disciplined myself, I could figure it out,” he said.
Music came first
Porter’s music began to take more of a backseat, and he slowly lessened the time he spent at his full-time job until he was able to quit it altogether.
“When he quit his job, we were all in support of that because we knew he has so much ambition,” said Jennifer Williams, Porter’s older sister. “We knew we didn’t have to worry about him because he’s great at everything. He’s always been.”
Williams said when her brother was growing up, he would draw with music playing in the background, and sometimes he would rap.
She said music was always big in their house — their dad was always up-to-date on the latest releases. Porter said their dad was a DJ and their house was the party house growing up.
“Even on Saturdays, music was on at 6 a.m.,” Porter said.
Williams said her brother’s music doesn’t sound like what anyone else is doing, and she appreciates that it tells his life story and is child-appropriate rather than degrading women like some popular rap songs do.
“It takes you to a total different place,” Williams said. “You can listen to his music, but until you go to one of his shows … his stage presence is amazing. You can tell there’s so much passion in what he does.”
At Porter’s last gig performing at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle, he started on stage with a blank canvas and a white jumpsuit. As he rapped, he painted the canvas and let audience members paint his jumpsuit.
Porter’s DJ and close friend Chris Hill, also known as Cousin Chris, said they took time planning the show and wanted to make sure there was enough interactivity between them and the audience. He said he’s never seen anything like it.
“(He) can keep the audience still engaged from various different ways but still keep it authentic and still stay true to his craft and what he does,” Hill said. “Hopefully that might be something we can see more of, but I think that’s a great way to showcase various different talents that you have apart from doing music.”
Hill has known Porter for about 10 years and met him at Pierce Community College. They discovered later that they went to the same high school and had mutual friends, but never met.
The two would hang out, and Hill would take photos for Sleep Steady. Hill said sometimes when they would hang out, though, it could turn into a strategic meeting about art.
“Even if he wasn’t painting, it would be like him showing me a video he saw on YouTube,” Hill said. “Anything that sort of fed that creative energy he was seeking out at the time, he was always actively looking toward that and sharing that and getting ideas from me and his other peers.”
Marshawn Lynch: ‘I want that’
As of 2016, Porter is a full-time artist. Over the past three years, he’s gone to art festivals, pop-up shows and other events, including one hosted by Lynch.
Porter said Lynch walked over and saw his art.
“He points (it out to) one of his friends and he said, ‘I want that,’” Porter said. “It was like, ‘Wh-what is this for real? Is he talking about me right now?’”
Lynch isn’t the only Seahawk with some of Porter’s art, though. A friend of Naz Jones once saw Porter live painting and brought the defensive tackle over.
“I had no idea who this guy (was), this huge dude. I go, ‘This guy might be a football player I guess,’” Porter said. “This guy’s like, ‘Man, that’s amazing. How much do you want for it?’ I was just live-painting, I didn’t think anything of it.”
Porter said he probably yelled out a way-too-small number, but was excited to sell his art. It wasn’t until later he found out Jones’ identity.
Porter said Jones asked for two other commissions July 22.
“It is awesome,” Porter said. “It’s like, to me they’re such an important movement in culture, they’re on the forefront.”
Porter said it’s important when athletes or rappers use their platform to discuss cultural movements. He also said it’s an opportunity to get involved in art as well.
In 2017, Porter met Crick Lont, also known as the artist and curator Dozer. Porter contributed to Dozer’s Warehouse, a space for artists to do graffiti in Seattle.
Lont said the project is in conjunction with Beacon Art — it began June 27 and was covered by Sept. 7. The building opened for the public Sept. 8, 2017.
“It was almost magical,” Lont said. “It was really cool to see the art community come together.”
Lont said as he got to know Porter and see his work, the two became friends and started collaborating on some pieces. The two have since painted a few murals and canvas works. He also said people have taken to Porter’s art and now his music, too.
“Watching it all blend together where his music was down at the beginning of that because he was just working on projects, and then his art career blossomed and you could see his music career catching up, and now it’s like a race and they’re toe-to-toe,” Lont said.
He said it’s inspiring to see other artists do well, especially when it’s a friend.
“It’s creating his own path, almost and being able to do those things he’s really passionate about,” Lont said.
Williams agrees and said she’s glad her kids have someone to look up to, and she couldn’t be more proud.
“I love that he has pursued his dreams,” Williams said. “From a little kid he wanted to be in art, he wanted to be an artist, he wanted to be a musician, and he’s all of that. I have three kids of my own and it just shows my kids that if you’re passionate about something in life, you can achieve it. He’s literally living his dream. Literally. How many people can actually say that?”