This piece originally appeared in the March 2014 online issue of Paprika Southern.
The Lady in Red, Honey
NO, NO, NO, BOBI PERRY is saying, seated on a couch at Savannah’s Graveface Records & Curiosities. I could never do that, honey, she insists.
For more than three hours Perry has followed diligently her neatly trimmed photo-copied route of the Feb. 7  First Friday Art March in Savannah. From 5:45 p.m. until 9:01 p.m., Perry, a fixture of Savannah’s art scene since 2002, has visited 12 spots along the route, taking time to praise the work, eat snacks, drink red wine, schmooze, and give and receive hugs. Lots of hugs. Seventeen hugs in total.
Adorned in her familiar red velour, Perry maintained a childlike wonder through-out the evening. Each location was like opening another Christmas present. “Look at that wonderful merging of colorand black and white,” Perry said of artist Josh Beckler’s work at the Sentient Bean, the first spot of the evening.
“This is the most wonderful high,” Perry says after leaving The Studio School—the third stop at 6:38 p.m.—and studying myriad pieces of art, including Robert Summerlin’s work.
“Ah!” a wide-eyed Perry said at Fox Loxy (location No. 5, 7:07 p.m.) as she looked at a piece depicting a bushman from about 1790. “I feel enriched.”
At Starland Cafe (location No. 6, 7:25 p.m.), Perry munched on ciabatta bread and in the corner spotted a Marilyn Monroe painting. “Now’s that’s a beautiful Monroe,” Perry said. Perry’s 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Pooler is a cluster of artwork. There are 132 pieces lining walls in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. Overall, Perry’s apartment is filled with nearly 200 pieces of work. Drawings, paintings, mixed media, sculptures. Some of the work is hers, most of it is the work of others.
It is hard for her to see a work of art and not think of the artist’s moment of inspiration, the effort needed to bring the work to life, the money spent, the tinkering, self-doubt, and eventual joy of the finished product. How could she walk away from something that required so much dedication and love? Perry can’t.
“It says, ‘Mommy, take me home,’ ” Perry said.
Often she does.
“She’s just that good person who you can always count on,” said painter Ben Tollefson, at Non Fiction (spot No. 4, 6:42 p.m.). “She shows a commitment to artists who are trying to do something fresh.”
“Bobi’s available whenever you need her,” said Clinton Edmintster, 23, a board member of non-profit Art Rise Savannah, of which Perry is a sponsor. “She provides a unique perspective. In meetings sometimes, we’ll just stop and say, ‘What would Bobi think?’ ” Perry thinks about being a trumpeter of art. Of inspiring people to continue to push the limit. She has admirers and friends in the art community who, when they see the arrival of the red outfit and red socks and red wine, know an art show has finally, truly gotten started.
With all the artwork she’s accumulated, it’s suggested she host a show featuring the work. Perry looks up from the Graveface Records couch and winces. Perry, 2013 Beach Institute volunteer of the year, owner of hundreds of pieces of work, valued ear to count-less artists, receiver of warm hugs, who said if she won the lottery, every penny would be spent enriching the art scene, the woman whose approval artists seek, says, no, she could never do that, honey.
What if she happens to offend an artist whose work she doesn’t have?
Everything is a Wonder
Perry grew up in Roanoke, VA. She was a model and a dancer and even though her parents wanted her to teach biology, she always had a creative urge. She earned undergraduate (1967) and gradu-ate (1970) degrees at Virginia Commonwealth University. When at VCU, Perry witnessed pianist John Cage perform his famous 4’33’’ composition. Cage sat at the piano and did not play a note. For minutes and minutes. The three-movement piece with no sound but only that of the environment enthralled the audience.
“He had pushed it as far as you can,” Perry said.
Even though Perry admits her own work doesn’t try to push to great reaches, hers is more conservative, she appreciates and encourages those who are willing to keep pushing.
At VCU, she said artists were allowed to push boundaries as long as the work was not illegal or sent the artist to jail.
“It was the 60s, honey,” Perry said.
For 20 years Perry was an art therapist. Her work has been featured in California, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Since settling in Pooler, Perry’s been a constant in Savannah’s art scene. Her 2001 Subaru Outback has traveled 144,000 miles, many of which have been accumulated cruising the Savannah streets. She’s visited each art opening and has not missed an Art March.
Perry enjoys being a constant beacon of hope for artists.
“I just take such joy in being able to go into someone’s show and think about what I enjoy about their art work and see them smile and light up,” Perry said. “I take my little map, take off, and I’m giving to fellow artists. I can’t imagine anything more gratifying.”
At around 7:45 p.m., Perry’s at location No. 7, Of Two Minds. Artist Isaac McCaslin embraces her. A Quicktime montage of his work is playing on a screen. Another artist is working in a far corner.
Perry receives another hug. She tells someone that the best work any-body can do is the work that is true to one’s self. “She’s a true Savannah patron of the arts,” the 24-year-old McCaslin said. “She means the world to us.” Next door, at Anahata Healing Arts (spot No.8), there’s music playing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” via a keyboard, violin. Perry surveys the scene, starts to leave, but then—“Wait!”—she needs to sneak into Sprout South. Another hug. OK, time for DeSoto Avenue. The Subaru’s trunk opens. Travel-sized merlot. Otherwise known to Perry as grape juice. The final hour of the Art March entails visiting vendors and The Kindling Work-shop, Maldoror’s Frame Shop and Fresh Exhibitions.
Earlier, at Sicky Nar Nar (6:11 p.m.), which included a traveling gypsy trunk show that featured vintage and designer clothes, Perry was concerned to stay too long because she worried she might find multiple things she’d want to buy. She did take time to model a large, furry blue hat, however.
But after 8 p.m., strolling along DeSoto, Perry calmly takes it all in. Popping in here and there, looking at the vendors’ merchandise. Joyfully chatting with Edminster. Receiving another hug.
At Fresh Exhibitions, Perry eyes the photo-graphs. A woman says hello. Then another.
“Everything is a wonder,” Perry said.
The One Counted On
In her apartment are boxes of dried en-vironmental objects. Perry’s own work is called “Landscapes of the Mind.” She puts together a collage of found objects—tree bark, pinecones, leaves—and creates an environmental scene. Often a moon peers onto the ocean. A sun shines light over a forest. Perry has more than 60 pieces, all untitled.
She wants the viewer to title the work them-selves. To have their own personal moment. The work hopes to inspire a quiet and on-going joy, open to interpretation.
As much as Perry enjoys being involved in the arts, undoubtedly others have come to expect her insight, her presence, her encouragement, her red attire. Perry was a guest of Edminster’s at Thanksgiving. McCaslin said there’s nobody more dedicated at promoting the arts. Tollefson would be stunned if Perry missed a show opening.
“Bobi is thoughtful; she always has an opinion,” Tollefson said.
Toward the end of the Art March, Perry talked about how people seem to be receptive of her. She tries to be approach-able and always flashes a smile. She wants the art scene to thrive. She wants to endlessly immerse herself in the creativity. Perry wants others to feel her unabashed wonder of the arts.
“I love doing it, honey,” Perry said. “How can you be thanked for doing something you enjoy so much?”
Written by Anthony Garzilli / Photographed by Siobhan Egan
The Art March takes place in Savannah the first Friday of every month–click here to learn more.