BY Russell Haswell in Reviews | 09 SEP 99
Featured in
Issue 48

Peter Halley

BY Russell Haswell in Reviews | 09 SEP 99

For Peter Halley's first solo show in the United Kingdom in over ten years, and his first installation, six post-Neo-Geo paintings were hung on top of repeated wallpaper-format prints and wall drawings of exploded conduits. The ceiling and floor were untouched. Ripples and bubbles between the gallery wall and the prints recalled the role of Halley's troupe of assistants in the making of the work. Is the artist's deliberate removal of his own gestural mark-making an attempt to reference the mass-produced, disposable by-product saturated society that his works are apparently a focused by-product of? Lets call it auto-constructionism.

Halley has said that his works are intended to be viewed quickly, to look 'hot' or even 'turbo-charged'. His slick ambition reveals the glorification of his subjects (prison cells for example) - like fictionalising the insanity of a high-speed car chase as a hedonistic pre-prison exercise.

Halley forces the philosophical issues of the paintings via the repetition of his subject matter. Their obvious production processes - the textural qualities of the stucco effect of the Roll-a-Tex used on the cell and prison areas - are commercial post-industrial materials. The surface of the paintings - Day-Glo, metallic or textured - deny photo-mechanical reproduction, drawing the viewer into a 'must see' situation.

Halley's 1999 paintings consist of small changes in a system that has lasted over a decade. The original elements of his imaginary/theoretical world are still in use - prisons, cells, conduits and smokestacks - but now they are burnt out, glowing, circulating, underground and/or multiplied. The self-restraint of these radically small changes - one colour, one element - is a nod towards heavy minimalism (Ryman, Rothko and Serra spring to mind). Still consisting of more than one panel, the paintings have retained the lower horizontal panels which display the underground conduits (often thought of as escape tunnels). These panels define the apocalyptic landscape setting which lends the subjects their building or cell status.

The conduits still carry the source of the illumination to the cells, their varying sizes signifying the possibility of transportation of matter other than human (the city as a functioning machine). Underground and overground conduits seem to ignore cellular technology - a social rather than individual issue. Seemingly irrational, the changes seem to be euphoric: traditional colours have been replaced with contemporary metallics and acid colour combinations. The paintings are not abstract, but diagrammatic images of storage and information transportation. The cells are Pop-Minimalist squares which act as confining structures, whereas the prisons are a critical element. In these glamorous works, synthetic colour is used to liven up the stagnant state of the arts, but also to compete with and assault the current wave of Day-Glo copyists. Halley utilises his personal arsenal of retina-burning, washing powder box colours without just being 'Op'.

Halley might employ geometry as a metaphor for society, but in the event of an earthquake his images would shatter. Although networks of viral and electronic data flow are considered to be contemporary information carriers, flexible conduits and cabling are required. This might explain the curved and blurred contents of the posters, where the more playful, initially digitally rendered prints are filled with the distortions of the 'trace edges' command used in computer illustration packages. They provide the viewer with the deployment of true symmetry and satisfaction in the illusion upgrade: unique Iris prints of the Smoking Cell (all works 1999), or Static Wallpaper and Mutated Cell.

These post-recession Neo-Geo paintings are the retrogressive nostalgic mirroring of pop culture of the late 70s and 80s. But they re-establish it while still managing to reflect contemporary interests - like remembering the 80s and observing the resurgence of pop icons such as Debbie Harry. Looking at Halley's paintings, I can't help thinking that he must have been heavily influenced by (and have influenced) art rock/pop/modernist/designer record sleeves of the early 80s - arguably his formative years.

The world has changed radically since the mid-80s and Halley reflects the wider social implications of the eroticisation of technology and the aftermath of post-apocalyptic life. His titles are often more than descriptions of their compositional contents (Smoking Cell) plundered from computer games (Time Crisis) or independent music fanzines (Forced Exposure). Yet the fact that the wall paintings aren't titled or listed as works in the same way as the prints makes them feel almost like afterthoughts. However, the attempt to perpetuate the belief that Neo-Geo lives on in his hands, is still Halley's playful production objective.