Fifteen Years Ago, Keltie Ferris Was Peter Halley’s Student. The Artists, Now Friends, Sat Down to Talk Shop as They Debut New Work


Taylor Dafoe for Artnet


The painters are showing their latest abstract paintings at the Independent art fair this week.


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.


You’ll get to do the chance to do just that this week at Independent New York, where both artists are presenting new paintings—Ferris with his Los Angeles gallery, Morán Morán, and Halley with The Ranch, Max Levai’s new gallery located on Andy Warhol’s old farm in Montauk.    

Ahead of the fair, the two got together to catch up, with Artnet News in tow to record the results. What followed was a wide-ranging conversation about working methods, color “friendships,” and setting up problems just to fix them. 


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The audio version of Halley and Ferris’s conversation will be published in this week’s edition of The Art Angle, Artnet News’s weekly podcast.


Keltie Ferris: Hi Peter.


Peter Halley: Hi Keltie. Good to talk to you, as always. Yesterday, I was trying to think back—even from the time when you were a grad student, I felt an affinity with your work because of your use of contemporary materials—spray paint, et cetera—as well as the digital-aged energy of your work.


KF: A sense of paintings looking forward. Of course, all paintings look backward, and they have to because they’re paintings, but I think a thing we have in common is that we’re trying to look forward in time to the future. We’re both somewhat future-obsessed. 


PH: Looking back at your work for the last 15 years, that’s obviously in the work. But were you like that way back when, as a very young artist?


KF: I don’t know if I was then, actually. In fact, I came into school with the problem of being art history-dependent. I always had an art history book open while working, really. Getting away from that was probably the influence of you and the school, learning to think more about the present tense and the idea that paintings have a life in the future—that you should address what you thought the medium was going to become or what you hoped it would become, as well as what it had been. That takes you into the realm of science fiction, because one doesn’t know what’s going to happen. It has to do with an interest in technology, too, which [is what] the sprayed mark represents for me.


PH: My paintings are not very athletic. I do these studies sitting at a table, and then they’re put together in a very mechanical way. That’s another thing that’s always struck me about your work: you have a really athletic relationship to your paintings and drawings.


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