Rust is a Living Thing

by Larry Jester

Modern Grace Magazine Mike Perault.jpg


I’ve been to Burning Lotus Tattoo many times, but that day I was there to interview an artist whose work actually inspired the design of my own studio.

Well known as “Micro” in the tattoo world since the early 1990’s, Michael Perault enthusiastically greeted me at the door surprised that the artwork we would be discussing was not for my skin. I was equally shocked when Mike informed me that he had recently sold the shop to his long-time partner and friend, Corey Nichols, in order to focus more on his art!

The conversation flowed easily despite the fact that this was my first time interviewing for an article. Jokes and jabs peppered the conversation via the customers and staff alike. Though we were standing at the counter of an immaculate tattoo shop that looks more like an art gallery than anything else, the atmosphere was as relaxed and as friendly as a backyard barbeque. (As usual)

I clumsily jotted down notes about everything from the first time his mom framed one of his finger paintings to the inspiration of his second grade teacher, Ms. Morgan. However, I got lost in the story as he described growing up in a workshop with his grandfather, Mr. Achille K. Behrnes. Captivated by his recollection of operating table saws and other power tools, often unsupervised, at the age of 10 and hours of exploring Greenoaks Cemetery, it was clear: This was going to take a little more time. Mike was gracious enough to invite me to visit his personal workshop to follow up.

The mere sight of his shop was almost overwhelming. A nostalgic vibe draws you in with front ends from each generation of vintage Chevrolet truck hanging overhead. (Working headlights and all!) Neatly organized tools for virtually any job are perfectly placed for their purpose. Safety gear is conspicuously displayed and intended for use. The last sentence makes me laugh as I watch Mike welding with bare hands, cargo shorts and flip flops.

Michael Perault is a self-taught welder, and is apparently better for it. In one of his many vintage band T-shirts, Mike artfully tacked small screws to an antique tool. After inspecting each weld, he carefully placed the wrench into a beautiful “shadow box.” The museum quality display case contained an odd assortment of treasured mementos from his grandfather’s workshop. It was then that I learned that Mr. Behrnes had passed away on the previous Wednesday. Mike ensured that each treasure, be it a fishing lure or a pipe wrench, was preserved in his grandfather’s memory to be shared with generations of family.

The display cases follow Mikes vision of repurposing little pieces of history which otherwise would have rotted away in an old barn or ended up in a landfill. His mantra of “Rust Is a Living Thing” rings through when you see creations such as a lamp fabricated from various engine parts or a piece of furniture fashioned from the tailgate of an old truck. His artwork is as varied as his customers.

The Michael Perault Tailgate Bench has been a hit since its debut, last spring; however it has evolved into a sensation. Mike creates the benches individually around a vintage truck tailgate while maintaining the patina and character of each.

He invited me back, to not only work with him on one of them, but build my own with him! Mike acquired the tailgates of two trucks from the mid 70’s and gave me the Chevy. Outside of my comfort zone, Mike showed me some of his preferred tools and techniques. Afterward he graciously watched my back (and gave me a hand more than I’m proud to admit) as I gave it my first shot. I got a heavy dose of what it takes to create these works of art and I accept that I don’t have it!

With his wife, Phoebe, Mike has donated six of these to charity, to date. Without accepting a dime of cost, 100% of the sale goes directly to the organization.

Michael Perault Art is unique in its authenticity. From technique and talent to sheer vision, the artist preserves pieces of history with a raw honesty. I’ll leave you with a photograph of his favorite work of art, which was displayed at the prestigious Arc Gallery in San Francisco, CA for several months and recently returned to its permanent home. (His own)  Believe it or not, the Tom Waits Painting is actually painted on a vintage radiator!