In the 1980s, artist Peter Halley helped ignite the East Village New York art scene alongside contemporaries such as Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton. In 1996, he co-founded the influential arts and culture magazine Index. And between 2002 and 2011, he was director of Yale’s MFA paint program. But he is best known for his often gargantuan abstract neon canvases, which he painted in subtly varied forms for four decades (an exhibition of his recent works is currently on display at Dallas Contemporary). Composed of cellular forms connected by ‘conduits’, his paintings are both luminous and austere, with textured surfaces that he painstakingly constructs using layers of acrylic frequently mixed with Roll-a-Tex, a surface material for houses. A native of New York, he works primarily in a 5,000 square foot studio in West Chelsea, a former industrial building filled with buckets of Day-Glo paint and bins of splashed rollers. But his studio in Connecticut, a modest two-story house wrapped in black-tinted shingles he bought and renovated in 2010, and where he now spends a few days a week, is a very different workspace. It serves both as a refuge for making the 17×22 inch studies upon which his large-scale paintings are based – a meditative process he compares to composing music but with colors instead of chords – and as a sort of memory palace, filled with furniture and objects from every chapter of his life.
“I’m really very interested in the design,” Halley told me recently on Zoom. “And it has become a place where I bring all my treasures.” In the living and dining room on the ground floor of the building, a 19th-century carved wooden Indian table stands in front of a geometric mirror with pastel accents by Italian postmodernist Ettore Sottsass, founder of the radical design collective Memphis. And upstairs – where Halley works seated on the floor at a tubular steel Marcel Breuer side table overlooking Long Island Sound – is a Technicolor relaxation area anchored by a chubby French indigo sofa from the ’60s or’ 70s. and a low-slung Missoni Roche Bobois Mah Jong chair whose bright pink and brown stripes echo the nuances of a 1972 print by Andy Warhol hanging on the back wall. “My taste is very eclectic and disorganized,” said Halley, “and I’m quite proud of it.” Yet his urge to collect is driven not only by his admiration for a wide range of designers and fellow artists, but also by a deep desire to surround himself with objects that his loved ones and creative heroes have also spent time with. . Interspersed with works he acquired through exchanges with artist friends over the years are furniture from his mother’s Manhattan apartment, where he lived throughout his childhood, as well as paintings by his mother. great-uncle. “The impulse to collect seems very much to be hanging onto time or hanging onto something that might otherwise dissipate,” he said. Here he discusses six of his favorite pieces.
Palafitta lamp (1957), Ettore Sottsass
I got to know Sottsass’s work in the 1980s and in 1995 I had an exhibition at the Jay Gorney Gallery in New York which included some of his ceramics and furniture as well as two of my paintings. My work definitely speaks of its design; it rhymes well with. This flying saucer lamp is very delicate so I don’t interact with it much, but I got it from my friend, design consultant Jim Walrod, whose collection was put up for auction after he passed away in 2017. I don’t never really know what it is, as I don’t research a lot of parts, but the lamp is precocious and, from what I understand, very rare. It’s just crazy. I also have a Sottsass dining table with a glass top and patterned legs, and I love this thing. In a way, it’s a classic Memphis Group piece – although Memphis isn’t necessarily my favorite part of Sottsass’s career – but it has such a paradigmatic postmodern spirit: it has a steel structure that supports glass and could have been designed by a modernist architect, but then it disappears into those rectangular legs which are topped with a red laminate. The whole thing is crazy impressive. I have worked a lot in Italy over the years and met Sottsass in Milan a few times in the 90s. Later I started working with designer Alessandro Mendini and did some collaborative projects. with him for the last decade of his life. So I am somewhat rooted in Italian art and design.
“Sunset” (1972), Andy Warhol
I am very proud of this piece. It hangs in the stairwell under a surreal looking lamp with a flexible neck by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec from around 2000. It is part of an edition of 472 unique monoprints – each one is different because the colors were screen-printed through them – which Warhol did for the Phillip Johnson-designed Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis. There was one in every room and when the hotel was renovated the footprints were scattered. Warhol made some truly amazing prints on paper, including a poster for the 1967 Lincoln Center Film Festival in the form of a giant ticket. I think he chose sunsets for this edition because a sunset is the most campy thing in the world – it’s the most appealing photo you can imagine – but these look like sunsets in the most polluted city on the planet. They all have a very artificial green tone.
“Prototype for the Earth project»(1967), Robert Morris
I got this work from Nadine Witkin, owner of the Alpha 137 gallery. She’s a wonderful person who deals with artist editions and ephemera. She sells posters, invitations to openings and a few small drawings. I traded an edition of mine for this coin. I really like Morris’s work and I think he’s an important artist, so it’s good to have something of him. It is a model for an earthworks. I also have two Dennis Oppenheim prints from the 1970s which document the earthworks, or are proposals for them. I grew up in the era of conceptualism and earthworks and all these artists. Elsewhere I have pieces by Vito Acconci and a bit of Sol LeWitt.
Untitled Fiberglass Reliefs (2001), Peter Halley
I guess I have to admit that I love plastic furniture and the use of plastic in design. And so in the 90s, I made these reliefs, which are formed from fiberglass and finished with pearlescent paint. I don’t tend to keep my own paintings, but these relate to Morris relief, which is part of my fascination with shiny and luminous plastic design objects. We often think of plastic as something unnatural or cheap, but it’s great to make things with it. There’s a reason it’s called plastic: it’s malleable, and it’s also lightweight but can be encrusted with color. Sottsass and later Philippe Starck, who also manufactures a lot of plastic furniture, praised its virtues.
Untitled Painting (circa 1965), Aaron Wyn
My great-uncle made this painting. He was a publisher and in the 1960s his company, Ace Books, first published all the great science fiction writers: Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany. Through his nephew, he also published William Burroughs’ first book, “Junky”, in 1953. But they refused “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. My great-uncle retired around 1965 and started painting. He was a very intelligent man and his painting was quite good and cleverly done. He passed away a few years later, when I was 14, and left a fully equipped workshop at his home in Larchmont, NY. I started to paint in this studio. And I don’t think I would have become an artist if I hadn’t discovered painting. It was very fortuitous. He used geometric shapes and a lot of colors. I never, except for my own amusement, painted figuratively, so from the start I also painted abstract paintings. I still have a few somewhere.
“Barnett Newman” (1971), Thomas B. Hess
This is a catalog from Newman’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1971. It is a very important book for me. Hess was a well-known critic and editor of ARTnews for a number of years, and his portrayal of Newman and his heroic belief in his own work despite obstacles – this guy was painting stripes all over the place. large canvases which for many years no one really supported – was very moving for me as a youngster. I saw this MoMA show when I was 18 and didn’t really understand it at the time, but I’m glad I saw it. I had just finished high school at Phillips Academy Andover, which had a great art program, and was going to Yale to study art. It didn’t go very well because the art department was a lot more conservative than I thought it would be, and it wouldn’t allow me to specialize in art because I wouldn’t do what it wanted me to do, that is to say to paint. dead natures. So I ended up specializing in art history. It was quite disheartening at the time. And then years later I came back and became the program director, which was a really wonderful time. The book also resonates, because it took a long time for my work to be recognized in New York. I got there in 1980 and didn’t have my first solo show until ’85 when I was 31 which is still young but not that young. When I started doing my paintings, people would say, “Oh, they’re so old fashioned. It’s like minimalism, which isn’t interesting. For a number of years, I just had to stick to it.