Contemporary Paintings by Minneapolis Artist George Halvorson
THE WORK OF GEORGE HALVORSON
By Pamela Hill Nettleton
The people in George Halvorson’s world know something. We wish we knew it, too.
It looks like fun to live there, dancing barefoot and striking yoga poses in rooms wallpapered in patterns so obstreperous they could make a statue weep, rendered in Halvorson’s rich and measured palette of carefully balanced colors.
He must like the real world very much to celebrate it so marvelously in this imagined one. He clearly takes great visual pleasure in what he sees in the world around him, and shares his treasures with us: the rumpled folds of a blouse, the outline of light on the curve of a chair, the echo of purple from these flowers in this pot clear across the room to those flowers on that wall.
It feels rare to find male subjects like his, men who appear approachable and kind, nice guys who are not grandiose or threatening (how dangerous can a man floating in a pink-and-white inflatable donut be?). And look at what Halvorson catches them doing: heading into the Waffle House for pancakes, scanning the campground horizon with binoculars, contemplating a city view.
But his women. These paintings glow with a palpable appreciation of the wisdom and value of women. His wear compassionate, intuitive, and curious expressions; their figures are graceful and languid, with long hands and lanky, Modigliani lines. From under wide-brimmed beach hats, they look into our eyes, teasing us with promises of sharp-witted insights and nuances, if we only join them. Halvorson makes us want to. He is a keen observer, a man who understands the myriad meanings of an arched eyebrow on a woman’s face. She is amused. She is intrigued. She sure likes that dog. And she is nobody’s fool.
Halvorson frames the art of everyday life with uncompromisingly elegant composition. Nothing is accidental here. The placement of figures and objects achieves exacting order, structure, and balance. He draws from his classical art training at the University of Minnesota, California College of the Arts, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design, as well as from his four decades of experience as creative director of world-class advertising and marketing design. This makes his creations deeply intentional and subtly strategic. The technical skill on display is precise, practiced, and well-schooled. Halvorson applies color in multiple, thin layers, delivering an intense opacity and presence without a visible brushstroke. Minus extraneous bulk, the surface appears velvety, the colors flat and smooth. His treatment of skin and the light that falls on it is exquisitely rendered into polished luminosity. There is pure pleasure in just looking.
In Halvorson’s hands, highly saturated colors in improbable combinations that should not work together, somehow do. His colors and his paintings are not wallflowers. They demand we pay attention to the seemingly inconsequential moments in our lives that are, in fact, the central stuff of life. The spirituality in this philosophy is prescient. Don’t miss this, Halvorson tells us. Stop and see its beauty, its symmetry, its delight.
A man sits on a park bench watching a train pass in The 1:47 P.M. Art Show. He could complain about the clatter or the traffic interruption, but instead, he takes a front row seat to witness it. He honors the art form rolling through the neighborhood every afternoon and acknowledges the power in the perhaps desperate voices of the graffiti artists. It’s a little funny. And a lot profound.
A walk in the woods is a solitary thing—not very dramatic. But in The Falling, something magical materializes. The forest reaches out to its preoccupied visitor and soothes her with a loving message from the universe. There are caring hearts in unexpected places.
In Greetings, a woman stands isolated on a freeway bridge, her red coat a brilliant burst of color against a blue sky. She lifts her hand in a wave to the total strangers passing at 65 miles an hour below. She will never meet them; they will never know her name. But they share a longing to connect with other humans, even at a distance; to be acknowledged, even for mere seconds. She waves to us; Halvorson waves to us. Hello. I see you.
This is profoundly humane and benevolent imagery. Halvorson is grateful, and it shows. There is beauty, joy, and humor in life, and he is good at spotting those things. He does not point to our flaws. He shares our daily lives.
With more than a little sagacity. Sometimes it appears that to be important, art must be ugly or violent. But optimism is no insignificant thing, and art that has grace and makes us feel hope has achieved something elusive and critical. Many paths to contentment take aim but fall short. Halvorson has succeeded.
The small moments of life aren’t so minor, through Halvorson’s lens. Life is those moments; miss them and we miss the lessons, the wisdom, the happiness that we came here to learn. The big stuff is hidden in the little stuff. Halvorson reveals it.
It’s right here, if you just look.
Pamela Hill Nettleton writes about the arts and teaches media studies and communication at the University of St.Thomas .