Peter Halley, The grid as social commentary.

In painter Peter Halley's work he uses the grid structure as a means to represent the environment within which we live. Born in New York he has a strong appreciation of the nature of grids as they are the predominant geography people traverse through that city. Halley describes New York as a succession of right angles. Peter Halley uses the grid but as a form of critique. His paintings are often colourful parodies of the idea of utopian uniformity or representative of the social structures whose invisible grids act as forms of prisons. He makes his grids very obvious as a counterpoint to the socially hidden grids underlying our daily lives. I thought this had a parallel with graphic design as designers can also often feel trapped by the grid as a means of communication and their continual seeking of new ways to break rigid grid geometry whilst still maintaing a coherence to their communications.

Historically the grid has been associated with the formal perfection of geometry, considered beautiful and ideal and associated with a utopian perspective. Artists like Mondrian and movements like the Bauhaus emphasised the balanced appealing structure of grid based expression and the underlying historical sense of unity and order grids gave them.

The history of graphic design and the use of the grid echoes long established theories on harmony and cohesive forces. The design schools emerging after the 2nd world war could be seen as responding to the chaos that was left by looking to the grid to once again restore some form of order. As graphic design developed innovative designers (whilst still staying true to underlying theory) started to break the rigid nature of the grid and look at ways of communicating information that still used its underlying nature but visually explored new methodologies of placement.

I think Peter Halley is interesting to graphic designers because he manages to conform to an obvious grid based means of expression but he uses its definitive nature as a means of commentary about the content of his work. I think graphic designers in their wish to restructure the grid to create further innovative, communicative aesthetic compositions might find what Peter Halley does inspiring. He looks at how the grid can be very obvious in both cases of echoing and or subverting an intended message. This approach can still be more than valid for graphic designers and as Peter Halley has found a very powerful communicative tool.

 

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