The expressionist paintings of Richard Halliday are as much about the physical act of creating art as they are about the physical appearance. His Constellation Series, in white on black or black on white, is made up of large-scale canvases swirled with moving lines. As the viewer, there’s an instant impression of the artist at work, leaning into the canvas and freely delineating creative movement.
“ I think of the drawn line as the kinetic means to extend my sense of perception and touch to the making of the work,” Halliday wrote. “The initial line trajectories are lightly applied so that they take an immediate recessive position to those that come over and above. The initial drawing of the line originates with an unconscious magnified scribbling technique used originally by the surrealists and later by many abstract expressionist artists.”
It’s interesting to see the way Halliday seemed to consider the line motivating the shape of the work, as if it had a conscious influence on him as an artist.
Originally from Vancouver, Halliday made his life as both an artist and an educator. After training at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University) with fellow artists Jack Shadbolt, Ron Thom and Roy Kiyooka, Halliday travelled south, then across Canada, where he began teaching at the Brandon Allied Art Centre in Manitoba before moving on to Montreal and grad studies at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). There, he became director of the Montreal Museum School of Art and Design, where he spent ten years.
He is most fully identified now by his many years as a guiding light at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where he joined the teaching faculty in 1978. In 1982, he became head of the Art College, and spearheaded a successful effort to make it an independent, self-governed institution, one of the most respected art schools in Canada.
But Halliday never stopped painting, moving from bright abstracts to the duotones of the Constellation Series. Seen together, the canvases appear to cover a continuous conversation of line and ground, moving quickly from one view to the next. His work is represented by Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary, which held an exhibition of the Constellation work earlier this year.
Halliday himself captured the physical and imaginative process behind the series, which he began in the early part of the last decade and continued until shortly before his death last year. In his artist’s statement, he wrote “The organic calligraphy that is in all the work, is an autobiographical statement of a particular drawing process as I make the motions that make the marks, that determine the abstract space which is the formal content in all the work. The paintings are metaphysically felt, automatic impulse becomes gesture and then visual sign for entry into an imagined genesis and universe outside and beyond myself.”