Keltie Ferris and Peter Halley on the Mysterious Joys of Making a Painting


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Artists Peter Halley and Keltie Ferris first met sometime in the mid-2000s, at the height of the abstract painting revival. Halley, a pioneering Neo-Conceptualist renowned for his disciplined grids, was head of painting and printmaking at the Yale School of Art; Ferris, a graduate student with a knack for wielding fluid materials like spray paint.

Nevertheless, their work had a lot in common: a love of color, especially jangly fluorescents; an embrace of digital influences; and a desire to release painting from both its figurative and abstract forebears.

Through the course of the teaching relationship, each found a respect for the other’s practice, and the conversation has continued—even if the two artists don’t actually talk as much as they once did. To pit their paintings against each other today is like seeing estranged cousins reunite: time has changed them, but you can’t deny the shared DNA.

As New York’s first IRL art fair kicked off last week with the Armory Show, both Halley and Ferris presented new works at Independent Art Fair, known in certain circles as the “thinking person’s fair,” which debuted at the Battery Maritime Building in downtown Manhattan. Ahead of the fair, the teacher and his former student reunited to catch up and exchange ideas. Artnet News’s Taylor Dafoe tagged along (virtually) to record the results.

What followed was a rare glimpse at two artists talking shop, in a freewheeling discursive conversation about about color, working methods, and what it means to make non-figurative painting in a time when figuration reigns supreme.

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