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Farrah Karapetian’s essay on Perry Hall: Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence

Category : Essay, Exhibits, Los Angeles Oct 4th, 2009

1790949873_22photo of the Maison Martin Margiela store facade in Beverly Hills, which Karapetian compares to Hall’s work

Perry Hall
Painting, Time, and Material Intelligence
by: Farrah Karapetian

The foundation, roof, walls, doors, and windows of a structure comprise its envelope. These elements define the separation between interior and exterior, but they also define such intangibles as airflow and temperature. The enclosure influences its contents as well as literally containing them.

Perry Hall’s argument for paint is as much dependent on the concept of the container as it fascinated with the material itself. For his Livepaintings, Hall videotapes paint as it shivers and scallops from the influence of sound waves, temperature changes, and other variables. While these variables are the catalyst for the sensual imagery that results, the containers in which the paint is housed are the constants that define the ways in which the reactions will take place. In Hall’s videos, the container is never visible – his focus is always the swirling morass of liquid color – but the depth of the paint, the shapes of its movement, and the ways in which light reflects off of its surface all suggest a specific form employed to retain the paint. (Paint in a cylindrical container will behave differently than paint on a flat surface, for example.) Hall’s moving picture is of the interior of the structure – all flow – but implies the envelope and the environment beyond.

These videos are shown flat – as projections or on screens – and this method of presentation begs the question of flatness in Hall’s imagery. Clearly, what is pictured in his videos are volumes of paint, but what is available to the viewer is all surface. The volatility of the surface does not take away from the fact that there is only ever a surface pictured. One sees the skin of the paint – a new series of skins revealed with each aggravation, but a skin, nonetheless. The lighting in the room in which the paints are videotaped influences the way we see the paint as a volume – it accentuates curves and slips over wavelets, defining little landscapes for those allusionistically inclined. Still, video – projected flat on a wall or shown on a screen – resists depth, and the illusions thereof are only that. What one looks at is surface, contained.

The election of the artist to show video and to permit the volumetric influence of light suggests that this work is not only an argument for paint, but for paint in photographic terms. Some of Hall’s decalcomania paintings are done on x-ray paper instead of Masonite or other surfaces on which it is more conventional to paint. These various decisions are evidence of a relationship to photography that may be inescapable in contemporary painting. Some of Hall’s paintings echo gestural acts of Gerhard Richter’s, an artist whose work has consequentially explored the relationship between painting and photography. Some of the webbing in Hall’s paintings also recalls the intricacies of a Vija Celmins drawing – work also highly linked to photography – though Celmins’ medium is controlled and his relies on chance. Hall’s very investment in experiment recalls the work of Marco Breuer, an artist who coaxes colors and patterns out of photographic paper using temperature and other devices of provocation.

Overall, though, these referential and formal strands are subject to the reigning sensuality of Hall’s work, which forces conceptual argument to the backstage. Perry Hall’s paintings and videos are biological and excessive. If they recall an actual architecture, it is the façade of the Martin Margiela store in Los Angeles; the surface of this envelope is swathed in silver paillettes that shiver under the influence of breeze and reflect the Southern California sun, not at all unlike Hall’s quivering liquids or his staged exercises in perception.

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