Living in the tension between beauty and repulsion, playfulness and danger, Pendulum/Pendula is a series of paintings produced collaboratively by artists John Hall and Alexandra Haeseker. With colourful subject matter drawn largely from  Mexican culture, the work is rendered in the stunningly photorealistic style they’re both known for.   Hall & Haeseker met when they were…

2015 Sep 12 – 2015 Nov 15

John Hall and Alexandra Haeseker: Pendulum/Pendula

Curated by Jessica Demers

It’s difficult to decide what is more remarkable about this body of work: the incredible technical skills of the artists, the bold and intriguing subject matter or the fact that each painting in the series was produced collaboratively.  

John Hall and Alexandra Haeseker are artists of international scope who have been practicing for over four decades. They met as students at the University of Calgary in the early 1960s, where they formed a life-long friendship based on their mutual artistic interests. Hall & Haeseker produced the Pendulum series between 1992 and 1998, dividing their time between their studios in Canada and San Miguel de Allende in the State of Guanajuato, Mexico. As the series evolved, they designed parameters to facilitate the process of image development. This involved setting up still lifes, taking photos and creating collages which they used as source material. The image was then divided, with each artist painted 50% of the canvas. Despite having very different approaches to painting (Haeseker builds up layers of washes while Hall applies paint with more opacity), they managed to produce images with a remarkable degree of cohesion. 

The pendulum is an apt metaphor for this body of work. The motion of swinging back and forth is reflected in their collaborative creative process, the balance between male and female, and the movement between Canada and Mexico (pendula is the Spanish name for pendulum). This dynamic tension can also be felt in one’s visceral response to the work. The radiant colours, layers of texture, and incredible realism of the images is seductive to the eye, yet some of the subject matter creates a feeling of unease and even repulsion. The theme of violence/danger in the work is balanced with levity through the playful addition of toys, leaping dogs, and humorous gestures such as Hall’s fiend death in Table Manners.

Layers of debris from Mexican culture are strewn across the canvas, at times overwhelming the figures buried underneath. This is reflective of how Hall & Haeseker felt as they explored the streets of San Miguel de Allende. By experiencing their work, we too may feel a similar sense of overwhelm, curiosity and apprehension as we encounter the bold and bizarre world they have constructed for us.  

Alexandra Haeseker

Born in The Netherlands in 1945, Haeseker studied at the University of Calgary between 1963-1966 and 1970-1972, and at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) from 1966-1968. She was a professor at ACAD from 1973-2003 and won the Immigrant of Distinction Award for Arts and Culture for Alberta in 2006. In 2014, Haeseker served as a juror for the MUDA Mayor’s Urban Design Awards for City of Calgary.

Haeseker’s work has been shown internationally for many years. Recent exhibitions include a 2014 solo exhibition at Centro de Arte Moderno in Madrid, Spain and large-scale installations for The Lamego Art Museum in Portugal. In 2015 she will be exhibiting her work at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Liège, Belgium. Her work ranges from public art commissions to museum projects across the globe. Artist-book concepts for The Bibliotheka Alexandrina in Egypt and The Centre for Book Arts in New York City 2013 have led to series that deal with collective thought, swarm theory, isolation of the human figure, and ideas that parallel science.

Over the past 40 years, Heaseker’s practice has growth from painting, printmaking and sculpture into a more interdisciplinary practice and includes new media, collaboration, and installation. She has also been an invited artist on science-based research projects, such as working with the Petrozavodsk Museum to investigate deep water marine life with Ichthyologists near the White Sea at the Arctic Circle for The Russian Academy of Science in 2010.

In 2016 Haeseker will be part of a show of Canadian Art for The Kyoto City Art Museum, Japan, and will mount a new solo installation for The Douro International Biennial in Portugal.

Artist Statement

Collaboration. The word conjures up two forces working together or colliding. So, when my friend and colleague, John Hall, invited me to complete one of his already started paintings, it was with the atmosphere of a grand experiment that I entered in. Our shared interests in Mexico offered the perfect escapist tactic to draw from a foreign culture, and coincidentally, a plethora of foreign subject matter. And so, Pendulum/Pendula began.

I have never called myself a realist. I am much more interested in the destruction of images and what is left. Early works of mine all had burnt edges, erased demarcation, and subverted drawing or faint pigment cast into skins of resin. In the Pendulum/Pendula series, my transparent glazes of pigments that crumble in washes at the edges paired with John’s sharp crisp opacities of paint. This became like a fencing duel where we would attempt to keep away from each other’s swords, but took the opportunity to stake out our territories where it made the deepest cut.

The incorporation of our own portraits into these actions made autobiography like sugar dissolving into water throughout the series. Our bodies acted subjectively as foreign postures amongst the superficiality of the scattered subject matter itself.

Like many artists, John Hall and I used the proposition of collaboration as a guise to challenge our skills and intellect to create images, as if produced by a distant third unnamed artist. The combinations of which have come to glorious fruition across these dozen works, where we start and end off as mysteriously as this process began

John Hall

John Hall completed his training in art at the Alberta College of Art, Calgary and the Instituto Allende, Mexico in the 1960’s. Hall was elected to membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975. Since completing his studies in 1966, Hall has lived and worked in Calgary, Alberta; Delaware, Ohio; New York, New York; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and, most recently, Kelowna, BC. Hall has held teaching positions in art at Ohio Wesleyan University, the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Okanagan University College and the University of Calgary, where he recently retired from a full professorship in painting and drawing. Hall currently lives and works in Kelowna, BC.

Likened to an urban archaeologist, Hall produces still life paintings that mine the rich complexity of contemporary urban life. His work is represented in numerous corporate and private collections and he has completed many commissions including paintings for Calgary’s Foothills Hospital, the Royal Bank and Cineplex Odeon. Notable among John Hall’s long list of solo exhibitions are his 1979-1980 exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada and a major retrospective exhibition at Mexico’s City’s Museo de Arte Moderno in 1994. John Hall has also participated in many group exhibitions in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Europe and Japan.

Artist Statement

Paintings from the Pendulum/Pendula series form the core of this exhibition, supplemented by two of my paintings of “found” still lifes of dishes drying and studio tools. These still life paintings continue my ongoing interest in popular culture and in the conventions of contemporary and pre-modernist realist painting, particularly those specific to the still-life genre.

My career began in the 1960s, that explosive decade of chaos, reform, Aquarian reassessment, anarchic freedom, and blind belief that anything could be done. I aligned myself to the creative movement initially labelled New Realism. Now we more often refer to realism with a prefix of hyper, photo, or extreme. Regardless of the label, the return to realism brought an essentially neutral objectivity to the field of cultural debris that the sixties revolution left in its wake. As a return to full realism evolved through the 1970s, I was excited by the possibilities it offered and pleased to be able to participate in its growth. That excitement remains in place for me still.

Initially I eschewed the use of pre-modernist pictorial conventions, preferring to employ many of the primary structuring elements found in advanced abstract painting of the mid-century, most notably an adherence to the flatness of the picture plane. As New Realism evolved, some artists looked again at the science of optics, particularly its use in photography, and this dominated early discussions of how the return to realism should proceed. Largely despised and ignored by modernist painters since the later years of the nineteenth century, photography became for some new realists an invaluable tool, and for others a tool to be avoided. Siding with those artists generally opposed to its use, most notably Alfred Leslie and Philip Pearlstein, I only started using photographs as reference material in 1979-80 during a one-year residency at New York’s P.S.1. I became intrigued by the way photographs are able to record simultaneously the full range of tonal values contained in, for example, a dramatically lit still life. By contrast, the eye tends to adjust quickly to passages of light and dark, resulting in paintings with a more even and less dramatic distribution of light. Working from photographs also enabled me to begin building still lifes containing more short-lived or ephemeral visual phenomena. By 1982, photography had become an important technical tool for me.

Since its re-emergence in the early 1970s, realism has matured and the original debates concerning the degree to which pre-twentieth century paradigms should be followed have mellowed in their intensity. Early in my career, I was reluctant to have my paintings associated with pre-modernist realism, preferring to distance myself from a too reactionary position, but in my current work, by contrast, I willingly and enthusiastically embrace pre-modernist painting conventions, not the least of which is found in my use of increasingly Caravaggesque lighting effects. While clearly reflective of my post-modern time and place, my paintings now willingly acknowledge and embrace the rich history of western realism

See Also

Dr Desmond Rochfort – Pendulum/Pendula Collaborative Synthesis

Marijke de Wit – Beyond Beauty and Resolution

Capitol News Showcase – Two Minds in One Glance

Hours & Locations

The Nelson Museum is located in beautiful downtown Nelson, British Columbia.


Exhibitions, programs, and events to help plan your visit.