For over thirty years, Peter Halley’s paintings, with their characteristic day-glo color and distinctive faux-stucco surfaces, have engaged in variations on the same closed set of geometric forms, designated by the artist as prisons, cells, and conduits — “icons that reflect the increasing geometricization of social space in the world in which we live.” Treating space as a manifestation of social control—an idea inspired by the artist’s interest in Michel Foucault’s notion of a carceral society—Halley’s paintings provide metaphors for the constantly proliferating communication and organizational networks that have come to dominate our world. Over a career of three decades, the artist has deployed his trademark iconic forms with ever increasing intensity, resulting in works with ever more dazzling combinations of color, shape, and texture, assuring their continuing relevance in the post-millennial information age.
Geometry of the Absurd: Recent Paintings by Peter Halley features eight large paintings produced between 2007 and 2015. The paintings selected for the exhibition share in common a distinctive double-stack composition—with two prisons or cells, one precariously suspended above another. This work presents, as Colin Gardner suggests in his catalogue essay for the exhibition, “a twist on the artist’s earlier horizontal, side by side cell and conduit paintings (with their necessary sense of enclosure).” The dynamic of each painting is found in the endlessly jockeying for position of two prominent shapes, as if each is attempting to be “on top.” Together, these works project a worldview in which technology and social connections have run amuck, expressed through a geometry that has lost its claim to rationality and become senseless and absurd.