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Influences: Peter Halasz

The visual, photographic, and musical influences behind the artist’s work.

Light / Dark

In TSJ 25.4, Richard Kenvin takes a look at La Jolla-based artist Peter Halasz. “The living and the dead,” Kenvin writes of his subject’s work, “darkness and light, earth, sea, and sky—there on the cliffs, in the still gloaming, the superficial clutter of the surrounding city recedes into nothingness and only these remain. The work of Peter Halasz, his paintings and his music, abide in this elemental, half-lit realm.” Below, we asked Halasz to unlock his approach by unpacking the visual, photographic, and musical influences that drive him.

Neil Blender.

At one point in Powell-Peralta’s “Ban This” video, Neil Blender skates an obstacle course traversing the house of the legendary Lance Mountain. He rides through the living room, where a painting of his hangs over the couch. I watched this video obsessively as a teen and, strangely, the main thing that stuck with me was not the skating but the brief flash of a Neil Blender painting. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly this scene conveyed to me, beyond just striking me as incredibly cool. I’d been turned on to Hieronymus Bosch and others long before by my mom, and was dragged to countless museums, but it wasn’t until those few seconds in “Ban This” that I was really struck by the strange power and radness that a painting on a wall in a room could wield. Blender has been a huge force in the skateboarding world, both on the board and off. His “Coffee Break” graphic for G&S remains one of my all time favorite decks. A man in pointy shoes, reminiscent of Picasso’s harlequins, and drawn in the manner of the German expressionists, lies supine with bent arms and twisted legs drinking a cup of coffee. The lines are thick and loose with a stronger allegiance toward feeling than actual representation. I think, for me, what stands out about Blender’s work is precisely that incredible feel. Whimsical spawn of Max Beckmann. Strange genius of skateboarding. Neil Blender rules.

Larry Clark.

Wandering through a recent Larry Clark retrospective at New York’s ICP, I was struck by the sheer beauty of those early prints from his Tulsa era. Long familiar with the book, I had never seen these photos in person before. Clark printed this work himself and there is a richness and subtlety to the prints not evident in later years (when printing was left to the labs.) Larry’s mother ran a professional portrait studio and darkroom and he picked up the craft of photography early on. It served him well as he started shooting the circle he ran with in his late teens and beyond. Spanning the early 60s and 70s, the Tulsa photos offered a glimpse into a world peripheral to the official vision of American culture propagated on television sets in every living room. Documenting quests for oblivion, good times, rock and roll, thugs and drug dealers, armed robbers, teens huffing glue, shooting speed, fighting and fucking, these photos declined to make moral judgments and instead simply presented life as his subjects were living it. Pregnant and still fixing, cavorting at swimming holes, smoking cigarettes, hanging out, killing time, shooting cans…lost in reverie. A carefree nihilism pervades as the eternal search for kicks drifts into high-stakes games of life and death—disturbing, squalid, tragic, and yet a powerful tenderness and humanity underlies all. Indeed, there is a delicate, almost beatific light to many of them that connects these photos to the likes of Vermeer and Caravaggio, transfiguring 1960s Tulsa castaways into the martyrs and saints of the Baroque period…

David Reed.

I was first introduced to David’s work through a mutual friend while living in New York. Instantly seduced by the lushness of his vision, I found myself lost in these paintings, which often spanned entire walls, usually in long horizontal strips, bringing to mind widescreen movie theatres and strips of film negatives. Though canvas, the surfaces resemble those of panel paintings—incredibly smooth and sensual. They’re very similar to a sanded-finish surfboard, were it a flat rectangle, upon which giant, swirling brushstrokes hover and unfurl, glowing over flat grounds, interweaving with paint splatters, stencils, and a whole vernacular of marks made in varying degrees of translucency and three-dimensionality, initially giving the effect of inscrutable runes and hieroglyphs, though one intuitively apprehends some deeper, wordless meaning. Of course Reed works on a number of levels and these paintings riff on a variety of themes: the history of painterly gesture and abstract expressionist mark-making; written and cinematic language; graffiti and the endless layering of tags on New York City walls; semiotics; cinematic light; Baroque light; corporeality; abstraction; representation. The list goes on. As Reed says, “Painting is endless.” Often using stills from film and Baroque-era paintings as source material, Reed incorporates these informants obliquely. One senses them strongly in the light that permeates his paintings. Indeed, it is their incredible light that I found so irresistible. There is something in their luminosity…a certain heart to it all, a sensibility which felt very kindred to me. Though residing in New York since the 60s, Reed grew up in San Diego, Point Loma, to be specific, with the cliffs and the sea and the witnessing of thousands and thousands of sunsets over the Pacific. This kind of thing gets in your blood and never leaves and it’s in those paintings as well.

Ross Bleckner.

Engaging the timeless themes of mortality, loss, and love, Bleckner seems that rare artist in contemporary times unafraid of making sincere work. Profoundly impacted by the AIDS epidemic during the 80s and 90s, his paintings are dark, mysterious, radiant. Subtly inscrutable yet full of portents, these paintings function as harbingers of other worlds, elegiac portals. Snatches of half-heard melodies drift in and out of static washes as El Greco’s hands materialize floating in the deep, apparitions from beyond. I mean, really, what more could one want from a painting?

Perry Farrell.

The Hollywood Palladium, December 18, 1990. Lost in the darkness. Lost in the drift, the smoke, the sweat, the crowd. Lost in the beauty, the press of bodies, the sway, the blue light. Lost in the dark as the bass line rolled. Lost in the dark as the drum roll broke and the power chords reverberated, cavernous, ecstatic as a seraphic wail drenched us.

Smoke drifting, billowing…a figure emerging in the fog, arms outstretched, held aloft. A bottle of Burgundy in one hand, in the other a bouquet of roses. Clad in a black vinyl bodysuit, a velvet sombrero, and a baroque coat—ornate like a matador’s but longer of cut—and resembling nothing so much as an emissary from some alien pantheon, he issues that banshee wail again in eerie heraldry: “HEEERE WEEEEEEE GOOOOOO NOWWWWWW.” Flanked by guitarist Dave Navarro and bassist Eric Avery—two psychedelic, ragdoll warriors of the void—and buttressed by the rhythmic mayhem of drummer Stephen Perkins, Perry Farrell sang, “Home…I’m home.”

The ceremony had begun and the ominous bass line of “Whores” signaled the coming sonic apocalypse. The stage and amplifiers were adorned with sculpture, Greek statuary, figures, busts, Santeria paraphernalia, candles, lanterns, and junkie memorabilia. Even the drum kit was host to a litany of saints and baroque bric-a-brac. The venue became a temple and the stage an altar culled from, and inspired by, Farrell’s sculpture for the Ritual de lo Habitual cover. This life-size assemblage was part Ed Kienholz diorama, part shrine. Papier-mâché figures lay arranged in ménage à trois on raw bedsprings. Surrounded and adorned by grapes, cherubim, voodoo dolls, electric candles, tarot cards, toy space shuttles, and stuffed roosters, it was, as Perry said, “A daydream of the music made real.”

Farrell’s artistic endeavors were on display for the previous two record covers as well. Nothing’s Shocking also featured a life-size sculpture: a mold cast of his girlfriend, Casey, nude, doubled into conjoined figures, connected at hip and shoulder, heads doused with gasoline and lit—ghostly Siamese twins with flaming heads sitting on a rocking chair, a visitation from some strange, archetypal entity, simultaneously intense and menacing, yet strangely peaceful. The band’s eponymous live debut used a painted-upon photograph of Farrell in a tightly cinched corset, perhaps borrowed from Casey. Perry incorporated quite a bit of her wardrobe into his vibe and the entire Jane’s trip had a fluidity and disdain for heteronormative boundaries, which was just one aspect of an underlying philosophy of anarchic freedom and wild abandon.

There was a certain pathos to this album cover, a subtle, dreamy sadness also found in such tunes as “My Time,” “Jane Says,” and “I Would For You,” which belied the ferocity of much of the band’s music. Incorporating elements of hardcore, metal, polyrhythms, goth, classical, and new wave, the music of Jane’s Addiction had a breadth not often encountered in the modern landscape. From heavy-as-fuck to blissed-out space jams, quick thrash numbers to the sprawling, epic expanse of “Three Days,” Jane’s took you on a journey. Easily one of the best lyricists of that era, Farrell riffed on such themes as bondage, freedom, transcendence, conformity, racism, suicide, sex, gang mentality, mob mentality, love, addiction, reality shows, serial killers, the burden of thought, ecocide, the virtues of wine, the seasons. Every aspect that could contribute to the overall experience—from style and attitude to set design, artwork, and lyrics—was deliberate, all of it thoughtful, all of it powerful. Perry wanted every sense engaged. It was a decadent, gorgeous trip and it was fierce. Jane’s summoned a mighty, mighty spirit, and Perry was its living avatar. Through infernos, through heavens…through limbos and back again.

Lost in the darkness. Lost in the drift, the smoke. Lost in the sonic oblivion, the sweat, the crowd. Lost in the beauty, the press of bodies, the sway, the crimson light. The Hollywood Palladium, December 18, 1990. I was 16 years old, on LSD, and the spectacle was not lost on me…