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Curator essay for Perry Hall: Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence

Category : Essay, Los Angeles Sep 30th, 2009

Perry Hall
Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence
by: Mitch McEwen, Director of SUPERFRONT

Perry Hall: Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence presents the work of artist Perry Hall as an ongoing interdisciplinary – perhaps, even, antidisciplinary – project. The exhibit collects paintings and digital films produced from paint in order to expose the artist’s exploratory process. Hall handles paint like an alchemist, exploiting potentials of its liquidity, surface tension, color and luminosity. Ironically, it is his fluency with this process of material exploitation, the sophistication of his material experiments, that has made his work relevant to a generation of hyper-digital architects.

Hall’s work is rigorously agnostic with respect to discipline. It is all about the paint. Paint dried on a panel, paint moving in response to sound, paint mixing with other chemicals, paint bubbling up in an experiment on photo-paper. Paint becomes not a medium to depict something – a figure, a field of color, or even a concept – but rather a medium deployed to investigate its own behaviors. In the artist’s oeuvre, paint is both the laboratory and the experiment.

No wonder, then, that some of the most ardent practitioners of 21st century digital architecture have collaborated with Hall in academia, exhibition, and design. Whether in appropriating animation software or adopting the tactics of software programming for building design, architects at the forefront of digital experimentation have explored the digital as material. Until the advent of digital fabrication, this exploration demanded that the subject of the investigation – digital processes – also perform as the medium of presentation. Like Hall, designers at the van-garde of this moment have worked with digital matter as simultaneously system and subject.

The work included in this exhibit spans physical paintings and filmic works that Hall has produced over the past 6 years. The Decalcomania series of acrylic on board explores a range of movements recorded in thick paint. Despite emerging in the 18th century as a term for the ‘mania’ around the trend of ceramic pattern transfer, the term and practice of Decalcomania was brought into the realm of conceptual art in the first half of the 20th century. The surrealist artist Oscar Domínguez referred to his work as “decalcomania with no preconceived object” – a material transfer with no prior form.

Hall’s series of Decalcomania takes this game of the decal one step further, where the decal emerges as the material effects of the act of making the decal. This produces a decal of force itself – of the gesture of twisting or pulling – and a decal of the properties of paint – its stickiness and luminosity, color and consistency.

The groups of digital film pieces – Livepaintings and Sound Drawings – continue this concern for discerning the properties of paint through movement. Hall’s first experiments in films of live paint began after his work in Hollywood for special effects in film (“What Dreams May Come,” starring actor Robin Williams). From this experience, Hall created his first Livepaintings. A selection of this series is projected in this exhibit. Recorded in real time and edited without digital manipulation, this series of time-based paintings captures what the artist calls ‘the self-organizing nature of paint.’

In the artist’s experiments, certain behaviors of paint are prioritized and examined at close range. Liquidity and movement produce a kind of special effects of surface tension. The high definition renders excessive details of surface effects, such that the digital camera acts as both microscope and aesthetic strategy.

The apex of the exhibit is the digital film piece entitled Material Study. Created as a teaching tool for a 2006 workshop with architecture students at SCI-Arc, this work casually stages revelatory moments of the artist’s methods and subjectivity. In the reflection of dark undulating surfaces and bubbles, the viewer catches glimpses of the artist’s studio space. Magnified and distorted, appearing at the center of the frame and abruptly disappearing from view, the reflection of the artist’s studio is revealed in the paint, itself. An image of the artist appears – alone, looking into his camera, framed by the distorted backdrop of an indoor space with high ceilings and generous windows. With this piece, the spell of perfection is broken. Here, the beautiful phenomenological study of paint bleeds into a more humanized possibility of masterpiece-making.

If it is an epistemological position that affiliates the artist with a certain generation of architect, then this exhibit might offer a moment for reflection on the state of architecture, as well. After at least a decade of studies in the powerful design possibilities offered by the computer, architects find ourselves in a moment of crisis. This may be true whether one practices as an architect of buildings or of cities, of financial systems, communities, or simply one’s own home. Perhaps, we might find in Hall’s work a reflection of our own seductively beautiful and obsessive experiments, and the aperture of self-awareness that emerges in moments of failure.

Educated at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, Berklee College of Music, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, Perry Hall is a musician and a visual artist. The artist has taught architecture students in workshop format at the Southern California Institute for Architecture (SCI-Arc) and lectured at other architecture programs, including the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). His collaborative work with architecture collective SERVO has been exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. He has shown his paintings at the Jamaica Center for the Arts (New York), Artists Space (New York), the Kitchen (New York), the American Museum of the Moving Image (New York), and the Williams College Museum of Art.

The exhibit “Perry Hall: Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence” is partly enabled by a generous donation from Lee Ping Kwan.