We had the good fortune of connecting with DJ Perera and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi DJ, can you share a quote or affirmation with us?

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. You could have all the talent in the world but if you don’t do the right things then nothing happens. But when you do right, guess what? Good things happen.” Listening to this fatherly advice being delivered by Robert De Niro to his young son “Jimmy” after spending the day driving his bus route in the nostalgic period film classic, “A Bronx Tale” is the pinnacle of all quotes.

Apparently, the screenplay for “A Bronx Tale” possesses almost 200 plus uses of the F-word. For a young child like myself growing up in Qatar where every profanity and innocuous kissing scene, in any film, was outright censored, this one dialogue between a Father and a son left an indelible impression on my creative spirit. Pursuing fine arts as an academic choice at both the secondary and collegiate level isn’t only a cultural anomaly, but a financial risk as well. Typically South Asian parents push their offspring to pursue more traditional and profitable career paths such as medicine, computer science, finance, or even accounting. My parents’ unconditional support for my artistic pursuits played a massive role in shaping my creative skills and creative journey in America.

Such was the jaw-dropping power of Robert De Niro’s performance in “A Bronx Tale,” especially during that pivotal scene, it certainly reshaped my conceptual understanding of “talent” versus “skill.” The difference is that skills can be studied and learned through books and other instructional media, whereas talent cannot and required a constant need to develop and finesse through innate impetus.

Robert De Niro’s quote sub-consciously drove me to develop and finesse my talents as soon as I pursued my collegiate studies. ‘Don’t waste time” became a personal mantra of mine as soon as I landed in America and began to pursue my BFA at TCU at the age of 17. “Don’t waste time” enabled me to obtain my MFA from Pratt Institute at the age of 23. As I mentioned earlier, the financial investment, or risk, depending on how you look at it, by my parents, instilled in me a great sense of responsibility and accountability to honour and stay true to my passion and talent for art.

Thankfully I did stay true to my passion and talent. Thanks mainly to the selfless support and belief of pivotal influencers from the world of art in America, I was able to exhibit in my first solo show at the age of 21 at Ro2Art, become an adjunct professor at the age of 24, partake in a few art-centric interviews and panel discussions- including KERA NPR’s 2021 State of the Arts dialogue series entitled “What We Have Gained in a Year of Loss,” in conjunction with the Kimbell Art Museum; manage and curate a local art gallery, become the first Sri Lankan artist to be included in TCU’s permanent art collection, and temporarily work at the United Nations headquarters all while being under the age of 35.

The concept of time is monumental in every South Asian culture. It is an entity that should not be toyed with, and when it comes to talent, it should especially not be wasted. It is the difference between regret and pride. Right now in both my personal and professional life as an artist and educator, there are absolutely no regrets. As my Mother lectured to me once, “the pride that comes with being successful the first time you attempt something will always outweigh your success during the second or third attempt.” Like my Mother, there have been an incredible amount of influential women that have shaped my art career over the years, including especially my Fort Worthian wife and TCU crush, Kennetha Perera.

However, it has to be said that before my wife, there was Robert De Niro, and his perceptive wisdom about “…wasted talent” has had, and will always have a longer-lasting impression and influence over what I say, how I say it, as well as what I do, and how I do it, in order to continue to be successful as an artist and as an individual.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

As primarily a painter, my earliest works are extremely psychedelic and abstract. I am currently working on a 19-part pointillism series that is intensely detailed and tedious. While the styles are contrastingly different, the nexus between them is my Sri Lankan heritage which serves as the premise for my compositional designs. I believe what sets me apart is a commonality that all foreign artists who migrate to another country possess. That is the urge and duty to preserve and/or highlight their cultural background through their artform. I have always been proud to show off my Sri Lankan background through art. What makes me prouder is the fact that I am the only practicing Sri Lankan artist in the Dallas Fort Worth area. “Never was this more notably highlighted when I was selected as one of six grand-finalist winners for the  “The New Normal: An Artists’ Response to COVID-19” which was an unprecedented grant-relief fund initiative launched by Mr. Edward. P. and Sasha Bass along with The Alice L Foundation and Kit and Charlie Moncrief aimed at assisting artists during the height of the pandemic in June 2020.

Earning that status was not easy. Creating art and sustaining it perennially whilst confronting life and the questions and challenges it presents itself is tough. It is the reason why countless art educators aren’t able to sustain and balance a professional art career along with their teaching profession. I have worked extremely hard to find and develop a balance between my occupational and studio practices. What that entails is time management, and more importantly, knowing when to decline and say “no.” “No” to distractions and deterrents that inevitably obstruct creative studio routines. For me, finding that balance between personal time management and knowing when to diplomatically say “no” has paid immense dividends.

If there is one aspect of my studio practice that I would like for the global audience to pay attention to, is that I create art to preserve my national identity. This self-preservation dually serves to edify viewers on my culture and what it has to offer from a global awareness perspective. It is an act that isn’t clouded by social, racial, gender, nor any other issue that may be polluted by the whims of politicisation. Like any other artist that chooses to create for the purpose of identity and nationality, it is genuine and personal. These human traits are what appeals to the masses no matter the genre. After teaching art for seven years in the Fort Worth Independent School District, I currently and proudly serve as an art educator for Boswell High School in the Eagle Mountain Saginaw Independent School District where I intend to inspire and nurture a whole new crop of students through art and culture.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As a person that enjoys cooking meals in clay pots, experiencing the best culinary dishes is imperative. A glorious breakfast buffet spread at the downtown Fort Worth Omni Hotel impressed me, while a hearty lunch buffet at the Gaylord Texan Resort is on par with other international hotels worldwide. Finally, an opulent dinner at the Capital Grille in downtown Fort Worth- the lamb chops are almost as delicious as that served in the Middle-East!

I would also recommend either a quiet and meditative outdoor experience on horseback at Benbrook Stables. If not then venture on the closest thing to a safari this State has to offer at Fossil Rim Wildlife Centre in Glen Rose.

Viewing a cricket match on a Saturday or Sunday morning is a classy way to end the stay. There are multiple matches that take place throughout Texas from Fort Worth to Plano, and even as far as Allen and Carrolton under the purview of the Dallas Cricket League.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
-Letitia Eldridge
-Jim Woodson
-Susan Harrington
-Linda Guy
-Cameron Schoepp
-Dick Lane
-Walt Steimel
-Chander Smith
-Linda Francis
– Ross Neher
-Tracy Hull
-Anne Bothwell
-Fred Spaulding
-Desmond Hemphill
-Jesus Lopez
-Noe Guevera
-Clinton Johnson
-Texas Christian University
-Pratt Institute
-Susan Roth Romans & Jordan Roth
-Ro2Art Gallery
-Funkytown Festival Gallery
-Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
-Kimbell Art Museum
-Tarrant Community College
-Fort Works Art Gallery
-Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona 
-Mr. Edward P. and Sasha Bass
-Ammi and Thathi

Website: www.djperera.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/djperera22/

Image Credits
Isuru Perera

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