Richard Speer, New York, 2017.
Hardcover, 144 pp., 79 color illustartions, 10.25 x 12.25 inches.
Already pointing clearly to the pictorial concerns that he would focus on throughout his career these works initiate Halley’s interest in the interaction of opposites, primarily abstraction and figuration but also interior and exterior, foreground and background, light and dark, appearance and disappearance.
Inspired by the color and sound of New Orleans, Halley translates the physical world into bright, geometric compositions constructed of gridded squares of color, where, through the combination of formal severity and openness as equal partners, seemingly simple compositions turn into complex amalgams of various possible views of an image and its space.
Here’s a book we can’t put down—yet another tactile masterpiece from Karma. Peter Halley: Boats Crosses Trees Figures 1977–78 collects the artist’s early works on paper, made during his years in New Orleans just prior to his meteoric rise in '80s New York. Here we see what came before the cells and conduits. “We infer imminent transitions,” Richard Speer writes, “New Orleans to New York; New Image to Neo-Geo; idealism and romanticism to skepticism and post-structuralism; relative obscurity to the satisfactions and pressures of art-world renown; and a larger cultural trajectory from the earnestness of the Carter presidency and the exhilaration of the Sexual Revolution to the dual specters of the Reagan presidency and the AIDS epidemic. For Halley, as for the nation, these transitions were jarring and epochal. The gouache paintings, with their cheery checkerboards and gold-star appliqué, gaze at us across the divide as from another world. Is it possible for squares, rectangles, and the occasional triangle to engender nostalgia? If so, then the gouaches conjure up the sweet, heavy scents of the Vieux Carré: magnolia, bougainvillea, oleander, and the faintest whiff of apple blossom wafting through the garden.