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PETER

HALLEY

IN

CONVER-

SATION

WITH

JUAN

BOLIVAR

FOR

TURPS

BANANA

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR

In 1987 I saw the work of the artist Peter Halley at The Saatchi Gallery, Boundary Road, in the exhibition NY Art Now (Parts I & II). His paintings were to have an immediate impact on a new generation of artists, and his practice has been at the forefront of my research ever since then.

In 2013, many years after this first encounter, I was able to interview him to discuss his most recent work, which had just been exhibited at Waddington Custot Galleries:

Peter Halley, Paintings 2012-2013 (11 April - 3 May 2013). JB: You’ve been very busy. Last year there was an exhibition at Waddington Galleries, a collaboration with Alessandro Mendini at Mary Boone in New York. This year there was a big survey of your work at the Musée de l’Art Moderne in Saint-Etienne, France, and Rizzoli released a book of collected material from index magazine, entitled INDEX: A to Z. PH: It’s been great. JB: When James Joyce and Marcel Proust first met, it was intended to be a great meeting of minds, but all they did was talk about cakes! I’m not suggesting we talk about cakes, but I don’t want to go over familiar territory either. When you had your exhibition at Waddington Galleries in 2001, just a few weeks after

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the tragic event of September 11th, you wrote about living through the aftermath in downtown Manhattan, and you wrote about the people of New York – the energy of New York

in particular. PH: I haven’t talked about this publicly before. I was living about ten blocks from the World Trade Centre on September 11th. When the first plane hit the tower,

I was at the gym, and like other people

I thought it was an accident, and then

the second plane hit, and I went out on the street. The towers were billowing smoke, and you couldn’t help but see dozens bodies – tiny in the distance – falling through the air. I turned away, not wanting to watch these people falling

to their deaths, and then I saw the first tower collapse. It just crumpled in on itself. Of course they were telling people to evacuate the neighbourhood, but I didn’t want to leave my studio and my life there. Fortunately I was in a spot that was just beyond the reach of the smoke and fumes. So I was also there during the rescue efforts during the following week when no one could get in or out. It was a very powerful experience – and I experienced it as a New Yorker.

I was born in New York, and I grew up

in New York. My father was in politics in New York. On my father’s side, the family has been in New York for several

generations, so by intellectual inclination

I really am a New Yorker.

JB: New York is built on solid cold stone

– people have had to dig into this stone to

build the city. I suppose we take that for granted. For me there is a contradiction –

it’s built on stone, but it’s also very warm. PH: I was born in 1953. Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop Art were the art movements of my childhood. I identified with these movements quite personally – it was all going on in the town where I grew up. It’s a factor that influences my work in

a way that most artists wouldn’t share.

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F E A T U R E PAGE 5/78 Raising Hope I 2013 Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic

Raising Hope I

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas 121.9 x 99.1 cm

Courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR

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PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR PAGE 6/78 Peter Halley & Alessandro Mendini Collaboration. Mary

Peter Halley & Alessandro Mendini Collaboration. Mary Boone Gallery, NYC, June 2013

Image: Peter Halley Studio

Warhol’s Factory on 47 th Street was just one block from where I lived as a child. At the same time, it’s been a topic of great interest to me how much New York has changed since 1980, and how artists have become much more spread out. The former community called Downtown, where everybody lived within a square mile or two has disappeared. The everyday experience of artists living

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in Brooklyn is completely different than the one I had as a young person. You are looking at the centre from outside. The landscape in Brooklyn is more horizontal. It’s quieter, and there’s less density. I think it may be more like London, where people seem to be more spread out. JB: You have written about how emotion is experienced in the contemporary

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F E A T U R E PAGE 7/78 world. You rejected the grandiose, operatic expression
F E A T U R E PAGE 7/78 world. You rejected the grandiose, operatic expression

world. You rejected the grandiose, operatic expression of feeling, claiming that what is most important is how we respond to space. You wrote that we can feel part of the city and yet separate. You once called it, “that feeling of being a bit spacey.” Your cells are metaphors for the home, the workstation, or a person’s individuality. And you describe how those cells are connected to other homes,

workstations, and individualities. PH: You’re talking about my essay, “A Short History of Affects.” It was written in 1993, and things have changed a lot since then. My main concern was how, in the mass media, people still talk about feeling overjoyed, enraged, despairing, or wretched, and events as being wonderful, cataclysmic, horrendous, etc. These grand emotions all come from

Raising Hope II

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas 114.3 x 73.7 cm

Courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR Above: Rectify 2013 Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on

Above: Rectify

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas

127 x 137.2 cm

Top right: Bang Goes The Theory

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas 116.8. x 123.2 cm

Bottom right: Camp

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas 101.6 x 114.3 cm

All courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries

the nineteenth century romanticism. And I said that the emotions that we experience today are quite different, that they are much more subtle, ambiguous, and ambivalent. I also tied contemporary emotional expression to an involvement with spatiality. I talk about contemporary emotional parlance using words like ‘far out’, ‘spaced out’, ‘freaked out’, ‘hyped up’, ‘up-tight’. And then there are words like ‘cool’, ‘chill’, and ‘hot’ – that bring in both space and temperature. JB: Someone said to me the other day, “That’s sick.” It’s a new London slang. I said what do you mean - is that bad? But it means that something is good. PH: That’s been around at least a decade. It comes from African American hip hop, I think. It’s an example of reversing the meaning of a word so that the new meaning is only understood by members of an insider group.

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insider group. T U R P S B A N A N A PAGE 8/78 JB.
insider group. T U R P S B A N A N A PAGE 8/78 JB.

JB. Looking at the new index compilation, INDEX A to Z, I realised that one can make a direct connection with Warhol and the Factory. You were presenting people like Juergen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans , Marc Jacobs, Björk, Scarlett Johansson — that was a really eclectic cultural mix. You weren’t just a one- party-politics magazine. You were trying to capture the whole spectrum of energy of New York in a similar way to the Factory. PH: Yes, I was always fascinated by how Warhol allowed Bob Colacello to cover a whole crowd of people connected to the Ronald Reagan White House in the 1980s, even though Warhol’s own politics were definitely left-of-centre. But we never went that far. In fact, during the 2004 election, we put Tom Ford on the cover of the magazine urging people to vote for John Kerry. And we

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F E A T U R E PAGE 9/78 Cult 2013 Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex

Cult

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canva 124.5 x 81.3 cm

Courtesy of Waddington- Custot Galleries

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR PAGE 10/78 Top left: Supernatural 2013 Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic

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PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR PAGE 10/78 Top left: Supernatural 2013 Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic

Top left: Supernatural

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on

canva

101.6 x 114.3 cm

Bottom left: Revenge

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on

canva 109.3 x 127 cm

Above: Scandal

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canva

134.6 x 132.1 cm

All courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries

on canva 134.6 x 132.1 cm All courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries T U R P S

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interviewed Teresa Kerry, John Kerry’s extraordinary spouse. When George Bush got re-elected, it felt like
interviewed Teresa Kerry, John Kerry’s extraordinary spouse. When George Bush got re-elected, it felt like

interviewed Teresa Kerry, John Kerry’s extraordinary spouse. When George Bush got re-elected, it felt like the end of the world. But it definitely wasn’t one-party. We covered everyone from Howard Zinn to Will Ferrell.

JB: A lot of those people weren’t in New York. PH: It was a much more interconnected experience. The internet already existed. It felt brand new. We were able to email somebody in London to ask them to take photographs of an interviewee. And someone photographing Marc Jacobs could email photos from Paris. And of course, things could be recorded on the telephone across the world. Our core identity was really connected to New York, but it was also a kind of nascent global experience – that has now become commonplace.

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has now become commonplace. F E A T U R E PAGE 11/78 JB: Going back

JB: Going back to your exhibition last year at Waddington, there seems to have been a change in your practice. It’s amazing to me how you and artists like Albers and Mondrian work in series through their lives, developing a particular motif over time. What’s interesting about your work over the last year or two is that you have reinvented that motif. It is still the prison, the cell, the conduit, but somehow they’ve acquired a different personality. I find your recent paintings quite humorous. There’s a shift from the cell being an interior space, like the interior of an egg, to these more recent paintings in which the cell becomes the egg itself looking out at us. PH: People sometimes dismiss my work because they say that the paintings don’t change. On the one hand it drives me crazy, and on the other hand I find it

Top left: Glee

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canva

110.5 x 109.2

Bottom left: Suburgatory

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canva 120.65 x 139.7 cm

Above: Revolution

2013

Acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canva

134.6 x 132.1 cm

All courtesy of Waddington-Custot Galleries

Peter Halley Image: Jeremy Liebman PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR kind of humorous.

Peter Halley Image: Jeremy Liebman

PETER HALLEY IN CONVERSATION WITH JUAN BOLIVAR

kind of humorous. The creative giants of my youth were artists like Cézanne and Barnett Newman. They painted the same old thing everyday. I read something recently that said I was morally reprehensible because my paintings don’t change! I’ve always seen the project of modern art as being about the tension between stasis and change. Cézanne paints that same mountain over and over. Is each painting different or is each painting the same? He seizes on the idea of painting the same mountain

as a means of exploring the issue of what changes in each painting. I very much appreciate your reading of my new work.

I hope it’s an example of how change

occurs even if the artist is concentrating on, shall we say, a very static set of signs.

JB: People often say Peter Halley equals Day-Glo paint, and I tell them it’s not

just Day-Glo. That’s part of it, but there’s

a real element of the colourist in you.

I know that you did your dissertation on

Matisse, and you often talk about your interest in Picasso. PH: My strongest influence, in terms of colour, has always been Picasso, especially the paintings from the early 1930s. As a colourist, Picasso can be quite humorous, unlike Matisse who is always harmonious and never irreverent. I’m also interested in both Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. With his Protractor Paintings in the 1960s, Stella began juxtaposing Day-Glo paint

with traditional artists’ colours to create

a very dynamic sense of push-pull. That

was definitely been a big influence on me. On the other hand, since Stella’s work is so sculptural, he doesn’t really have to use colour to establish the space in the painting – but since the forms in my paintings are so flat, the colour really does create the space. JB: People often don’t see that as a neo-plastic exploration because they are fixated on your writings and the theories surrounding your work. PH: Yes, that’s frustrating. But there are

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other factors at work as well. Until about

2000, to be called a colourist was actually

a negative term. Beginning in the 1970s,

there was a tremendous reaction against Clement Greenberg and American colour field painting. At that time, Greenberg was seen as the powerful judgemental father figure of American art who claimed that art moved in only one direction, towards flatness and materiality, and that colour had to be the dominant expressive element. For Greenberg, if art didn’t conform to that model, the art didn’t matter. By the 1970s, just about everyone had vehemently rejected his model. So, until sometime around 2000, someone could have said that I was a colourist and that would have meant my work was really bad – or even reactionary. JB: You’ve talked about the difference between your approach and that of Joseph Albers, who emphasised the behaviour of colour as separate from the material from which it was made – and your approach, which centres on the behaviour of actual physical paint. PH: Absolutely. When I was teaching at Yale, I taught a class on colour focusing on paint. Traditional colour theory is based on hue and value, what an abstract red would do against an abstract green,

but I was also interested in how different kinds of paint interact. Over the years, in my own paintings, I like to juxtapose Day-Glo red with, say, artist’s cadmium red, and pearlescent naphthol red. I’m interested in how those different reds interact. JB: …because pearlescent colours have

a different physical quality. They are

slightly reflective like a dull mirror. PH: I got interested in pearlescent colour in the 1990s because I began to notice how so many objects were painted in pearlescent colours, like shampoo bottles, automobiles, computers – it was even used in nail polish. I began to use it because I saw so much of it around me. JB: I read somewhere that in the early

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twentieth century, machines were about always showing the mechanisms – you

had to see the cogs, the pistons, and the chains. But, in our era, everything has to be hidden behind a smooth veneer –

a pearlescent veneer.

PH: I think you’re referring to the cultural theorist Frederick Jameson who differentiated between modernist and post-modernist design aesthetics. Today the most obvious example is computers of all kinds – laptops, iPads, and smartphones – everything becomes a dematerialised little pearlescent box, and we have no idea what’s going on inside. JB: You’ve always been interested in Philip Guston and his use of humour in his work. PH: He was a significant influence on me in the early 1980s. In his cartoon paintings, the elements are organised frontally and often placed on a kind of pediment, like mine are. I responded to his black existentialist humour - the bloodshot eyeball under the bare light bulb smoking a cigarette having a beer

painting a painting. It’s a grim but funny vision, and it sort of related to the way

I imagined myself in a prison in a bleak

abstract landscape – that’s how I saw my work at the beginning of the 1980s. Then I went on to envisioning the prison

and the cell as connected to other prisons and cells. JB: And that’s the genesis of your mature work? PH: The question I’ve been asking myself since the 1980s is – how have the social conditions that we experience as human being changed? You know with the advent of the digital age and the ubiquitous presence of suburban living arrangements, we have become much more detached. And in the west, we live in a world that is almost devoid of any kind of material threat. I am trying to address a global situation in which there

is rapid ongoing change. I think other

people have done it better. I’m a big admirer of Rem Koolhaas, who has,

FEATURE

for example, addressed the issue of

‘bigness’ – what is it like to live in a city of twenty million people, and how do the commercial mega-structures where we live, work, and shop effect us? JB: You’ve repeatedly made reference to humour. In the end, is that a major aspect of your work? PH: I’m inclined to a creative approach in which humour is a major motivator. At the same time, in the era in which we live, I think that humour is probably the only tool we can still use to accomplish the function of critique in a situation in which real opposition is no longer possible. JB: To challenge critique in a sense? PH: Well, not just to challenge critique, but just to challenge anything we automatically believe to be true. JB: I began my studies at Central St. Martins in 1985, and I remember one of the first things I saw, other than people like Picasso, was your work and Jeff Koons’ at the Saatchi Gallery in 1987.

I remember being drawn to the works.

PH: You know, the irony is for me, is that the exhibition created something of a mess. All the works had been acquired within one year for something called the Saatchi Collection – implying that the works would be kept together.

But they sold all the work within a year afterward! At the same time there were

a lot of people like you who saw that

exhibition, and it seems to have had a big impact on the young generation of artists in the UK at the time. So maybe that shows why I am so interested in the concept of humour.

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why I am so interested in the concept of humour. PAGE 13/78 Hoodie - Juan Bolivar

Hoodie - Juan Bolivar

2008

Acrylic on canvas

38 x 39 cm

Courtesy of the artist