PaperCity invited Beverly Acha, artist and assistant professor of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, to interview Peter Halley to get to the heart of his new work on view at Dallas Contemporary. Acha and Halley met in 2010 at Yale where Peter headed the Painting and Printmaking MFA program, and Beverly was a student.
In the 1980s, the artist Peter Halley helped ignite New York’s East Village art scene alongside contemporaries like Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton. In 1996, he co-founded the influential arts and culture magazine Index. And between 2002 and 2011, he served as the director of Yale’s M.F.A. painting program. But he is best known for his often gargantuan neon abstract canvases, which he has made in subtly varying forms for four decades (a show of his recent works is currently on view at Dallas Contemporary). Comprising cell-like shapes connected by “conduits,” his paintings are at once luminous and austere, with textured surfaces he laboriously builds up using layers of acrylic frequently mixed with Roll-a-Tex, a surfacing material for houses. A native New Yorker, he works mostly from a 5,000-square-foot studio in West Chelsea, a former industrial building filled with buckets of Day-Glo paint and bins of splattered rollers. But his studio in Connecticut, a modest two-story house wrapped in black-stained shingles that he bought and renovated in 2010, and where he now spends a few days each week, is a very different kind of work space. It serves as both a refuge for making the 17-by-22-inch studies on which his large-scale paintings are based — a meditative process he likens to composing music but with colors instead of chords — and as a memory palace of sorts, filled with furniture and objects from each chapter of his life.
Art in America
A central fixture in New York’s conceptualist Neo-Geo scene of the 1980s, Peter Halley’s work all but disappeared from the city’s galleries by the start of the 1990s, and for the subsequent decade was exhibited chiefly abroad. Sperone Westwater’s recent show comprised ten paintings Halley made between the late ’90s and the early 2000s that are owned by Gian Enzo Sperone and had never been shown before. Pictorial metaphors of incarceration—and what they evoke about our confinement to capitalist conformism—established the artist’s conceptual bona fides, and, indeed, the works on view featured his trademark “cell” and “prison” motifs: squares or rectangles rendered in bright monochromes or with barlike stripes across them. Two of the works, Two Prisons and Red Cell over Horizontal Red Prison (both 2004), displayed symmetrical stacks of these forms, but the others featured more compelling off-center geometries.
In his 1987 essay ‘Notes on Abstraction’, the ‘neo-geo’ painter Peter Halley offers up a vision of the near future. In this coming age, ‘the social is […] transferred onto the electro-magnetic digital grids of the computer,’ the ‘chip becomes the universal gateway through which everything must pass.’ and ‘computers even gain a hand in rebuilding specific reality according to their own digital rules.’
The Brooklyn Rail
Since the early 1980s the influence of Peter Halley’s writings, paintings, and installations has been widespread. He makes what he terms “diagrammatic images,” which delineate the hyperreal circulatory feedback loop of contemporary social and political culture. On the day after the opening of his new installation project, New York, New York at Lever House in Midtown Manhattan, I spoke with Halley in his Chelsea studio.