By ZAZ HOLLANDER
Anchorage Daily News
January 15, 2007
The cult television series "American Chopper" showcases father-son motorbike masterpieces on the Discovery Channel, while the "Overhaulin'" series turns clunkers into gleaming classics on TLC.
But that kind of fame has so far eluded Perry Cowles - unless you count the motorcycles he painted that ended up in a show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Cowles practices the art of automotive painting and restoration from a quiet, out-of-the-way shop a couple of miles northeast of the Wasilla, Alaska city limits. His house, wife and 3-year-old son are but a few dozen steps away from his businesses, Vital Signs and The Chop Shop.
Don't let the low profile fool you, fans say. Cowles is a rock star with paint.
"His flame work on hot rods is spectacular! (A)nd he's not a bad guy, either," says Mike Lavallee, a nationally known pinstriping and airbrush artist by e-mail. "I've seen projects of his for a while now, and I'm always impressed with his work."
Cowles operates out of a nondescript metal building at a bend in the road. His small home is on the other end of a large lot. It's all pretty low key - except for the "I DO THE COOL STUFF" motto on the shop door and his Chevrolet Astro van, purple and white with green flames.
Inside, restored motorcycles - including a 1963 Honda - surround the showroom on a window-high shelf. A stuffed marlin hand-painted with green flames edged with red hangs above the door to the shop. An old, red Mobil gas pump sits on the floor, near a small refrigerator painted blue and bearing the "Chevrolet" label across its front. Salmon swim across a surreal backdrop of street graffiti on a huge oil painting by former Alaska artist Chris Wakefield.
Three jobs in various states of completion sit in the shop: a 1968 Camaro with a cherry-red "candy" paint job that started with a base of bright gold covered with many coats of red-tinted clear; a 1957 Chevy with a deep, glossy black coat, "probably the nicest '57 Chevy in the state," as Cowles puts it; and a 1962 Corvette shipped from Texas for a ground-up restoration to its original metallic brown color.
An hour of Cowles' time is worth $85, but that includes materials and hardware. During a recent visit, reggae covers of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" played in the background as Cowles drank a cup of coffee in a vintage red leather barber chair.
"So many people come in and say, 'Wow! What are you doing in Alaska?'" he said.
Cowles grew up in Alaska, arriving just after the 1964 earthquake. His dad was a land surveyor. His mother is a painter and avid quilter.
Cowles got his start with Bob Parsons, owner since 1979 of Parsons Art and Sign in Anchorage. The thing about Cowles, Parsons says, is that he's both imaginative and talented.
He hand-built his own chopper; he built himself a skeletal elevator called "the Hellevator" that accesses a second-floor workspace; he's building himself a "rat rod" from a 1930 Model A Ford. But he also fashioned a white iron bed complete with a little heart for his wife.
"He's all over the place with skill sets," Parsons said. "He's a top-of-the-line custom automotive painter; his works have consistently won best-of-paint in the auto show circles."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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