With major solo exhibitions at MoMA, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, American artist Peter Halley is being given his latest one-man show in London at Waddington Custot Galleries
. On display are 13 new works, rendered in his signature Day-Glo colours, which reinvigorate Halleys famous prison and cell motifs.
Taking influence from Hard-Edge Abstraction and Colour Field Painting, Halley explores subjects that reoccur within the discourse of postmodernism. He alludes to the overstimulation of mass communication in the digital age with multiple channels or conduits that run along the canvas, often without a logical route from one destination to another, connecting spaces that are almost figurative depictions of a battery cell; a computer chip; a cage, or an air conditioning unit.
The cells contained within his paintings also take influence from Michel Foucault and refer to the oppressive architecture of buildings, such as prisons, or make a more general statement on the city as a machine. Halley uses the powdery paint-thickening agent Roll-a-Tex, a decorators tool, to create a textured surface. This paint mix is a very literal reference to architecture and the building industry, and is also a satiric reference to impasto and stucco. When viewed in contrast to the smooth planes of the rest of the canvas, the Roll-a-Tex can be seen as the white noise of a static television signal or a lost telephone connection.
These confined cells are also conceptually significant: they represent feelings of isolation or repression, or more specifically the confines of middle-class ideas of masculinity (a pun on being square). Halley has indicated that the paintings are in some respects autobiographical, referring to the texture Roll-a-Tex paint used in his works as the stubble on a mans face.
Unusually, the titles of these works derive from American television programmes. Halley allocates these titles to his paintings based on the resonance of a particular word or phrase from the programmes name, with no association to the shows content. Therefore Glee, Suburgatory and Bang Goes the Theory take on new meaning in the context of Halleys prisons and isolated spaces.
Born in New York City in 1953, Peter Halley was educated at Yale University and the University of New Orleans. He came to critical attention in the early 1980s as part of a group known as the Neo-Geometric Conceptualists, which included Jeff Koons. It was Halleys own writing, inspired by Jean Baudrillards theory of simulation, which became the groups theoretical force.
In 1986 Andy Warhol painted a series of portraits of Halley. Between 1996 and 2005 Halley published the cultural magazine Index from his studio in Chelsea, New York. He has had annual international solo exhibitions since 1984. Halley has taught at Columbia University, UCLA, and the School of Visual Arts, and since 2002, he has been the Director of Graduate Studies in Painting and Printmaking at the Yale University School of Art.