Purple Art

[February 10 2017]

Peter Halley “Paintings from the 1980’s” exhibition at Modern Art, London

Peter Halley, born in New York in 1953, has been known since the 1980’s for his brightly coloured palette, his abstract canvases structured with geometric shapes and his affiliation to the “Neo- Geo” movement. The Neo-Geo movement is considered to be one of the first major movements in post-modernism. Throughout this time Halley, alongside John Armleder and Olivier Mosset attempted to reinterpret the aesthetics of art and their vision of society through the incorporation of geometrical shapes and bright colors onto their canvases, taking abstract art to new horizons. Halley uses geometry and structures in his work for the political and social connotation they carry and as an instrument of communication and control.

Presented in this new exhibition at Modern Art are some of Halley’s drawings and paintings from the early 1980’s. When looking at the work in the gallery, one could see the canvas painted over with great colors as some kind of positive expression. But the vision of “reality” the painter is trying to convey through his work is quite the opposite. Using lines and squares, the construction of the work is somehow showing the damaging effects of society, a “geometricisation of modern life” as the artist called it. The enclosures society creates, in which we operate, and of which we are prisoners and the influence it has on our ways of thinking. A drawing shows the artist’s strong opinion of society, an apartment building is next to a prison like in a “spot the difference” game. The drawings are the same, except for the presence of bars on the prison’s windows – a detail one could easily miss. The words used by Halley to sometimes title his works are often referring to the prison system and the different spaces that compose it. Tight, constraining spaces, such as “Cells” or “Conduits”. The paintings also refer to the different networks of communication. The painted lines being the connecting cables between devices such as computers, televisions and telephones, which are represented by shapes in different colors. The rough textures of certain shapes on the canvas being like the “white noise static” received on analog TV sets, the different frequencies of a signal.

This series of paintings was created a bit more than ten years after the creation of Arpanet, a system of inter-connected networks aiming to provide resource sharing among users on different types of computers. It is mostly known for being an ancestor of the modern-day Internet. Even though created in the 1980’s, the paintings are still relevant today. The Internet grants access to every human being to anything, anywhere on the planet but at the same time makes us prisoners of a system to which we sign up, subscribe and connect everyday.

On view until March 18th, at Modern Art 4-8 Helmet Row, London.

See more of Peter Halley‘s work featured in our Philo interview with Sylvere Lotringer from Purple Fashion magazine 26.

Text and photo Clovis Bataille

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