The artist and craftsman Erik Halley — who has worked with fashion houses like Christian Louboutin and Thierry Mugler, as well as collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen and many more — has opened a solo art show in New York City called “Cassiopé Manifesto.” The exhibit is being held until Sept. 22 at S12 Studio gallery in downtown Manhattan.
It’s a quiet space with white walls and a mazelike layout that Halley has filled with his multidisciplinary work from over the years. Masks that look like rabbits’ heads; headdresses made of feathers, jewelry, and watches topped by spiders, and the famed lobster that Isabella Blow wore on her head and around her neck populate the rooms, each of which has a different feel and theme.
“I’m a big fan of surrealism,” says Halley, who is half-British and half-French, with silvery hair. One can hear his mixed accent clearly: the French emerges when he says words like “arrogance,” and his English side is quite apparent when he talks about someone who “ah-sked” him a question.
Halley explains “Cassiopé Manifesto” was inspired by the myth of Cassiopeia, who was, as the story goes, beautiful — but arrogant and vain. He sees Cassiopeia’s tale as reflective of his pieces, particularly the masks.
“You can put a mask on and hide who you are. But most of the time, when people wear them, they reveal themselves more than ever,” he says. “They’re not afraid to be who they are because the mask is showing somebody else.”
The masks themselves are sights to behold. One of them, which Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio wore to both his birthday party and the Dior Masked Ball this year, is a golden swan fashioned out of real feathers that Halley picked up at various auctions and flea markets in France. Others are housed inside the “Titanium Punk” room, where visitors will find a chandelier smashed artfully on the ground and six sparkling masks on spikes surrounding it.
But back to the lobsters — which Halley speaks of fondly, like they’re old friends. He said he’s restored the crustaceans recently, since a couple of lobsters were made 20 years ago for his first exhibition at the now-shuttered Colette in Paris. Blow — whom the artist lovingly refers to as “Izzy” and is the person he says propelled his career within the fashion world — was the only person to ever wear one of the creatures. She saw it at Colette and asked Halley to let her borrow it. Then, in a car on her way to another show, her driver made a sharp turn, and she slammed into the side of the vehicle, breaking the lobster into pieces that she then sent back to Halley inside a box.
“It’s a real lobster shell,” he explains. “This big one I got from a Japanese restaurant. The chefs are so delicate and gentle when they remove the shell. So I said, ‘Oh, can I have it? I’d like to buy it.’”
The standout room of the exhibition is the last one, which Halley titled “Les Baigneuses.”
“You know in classic paintings, you always have ladies taking a bath in a pond?” he asks, gesturing toward a table with rounded sides. “This is my pond.”
White heads half-submerged in the proverbial water of the pond can be seen wearing hats made of Louboutin’s signature red soles.
“I work with Louboutin, we started together 20 years ago,” Halley says. “I made the first hat with this sole at an exhibition in the Nineties and now, Christian is still sending me soles all the time.”
Before exiting the space, Halley wants to point out just one more lobster. Made of crystal, it was so clear-cut and architecturally crafted that it almost looked aerodynamic. Halley explains that for this piece, he worked with the designer of Mugler’s perfume bottles, Jean-Jacques Urcun; Halley has collaborated in the past with Mugler for Beyoncé’s “I Am…” world tour to craft a bustier encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Up next, he’s working on a worldwide exhibition with Thierry Mugler consisting of 300 pieces, which will start in Montreal.
“People always ask me which is my favorite piece,” Halley says, admiring the crystal. “I tell them my favorite is the one I’m going to make next.”
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