JANUARY 7 – JANUARY 29, 2000




The drawings in Richard Halliday’s CONSTELLATION SERIES develop the concepts of measurement, positioning, and instability as they apply to the figurative elements present in the work. Halliday’s process consists of elaborating upon the spatial areas that are created through a calligraphical approach to mark-making. In his works, the work becomes “…a temporal experience of what was rather than what is—an exquisite balance of being.”



RICHARD HALLIDAY has successfully contributed to the development of contemporary art in Canada for the past 35 years. He has served as Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design, as well as the Head of the Alberta College of Art and Design. Richard is a member of the Artists Circle and Calgary Contemporary Arts Society; a board member at the Triangle Gallery, Calgary; and has just recently been appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy. He has exhibited extensively nationally, and has work in numerous public and private collections. Currently, Richard Halliday maintains his practice in Calgary while also instructing at the Alberta College of Art and Design.



There is an independent, romantic spirit to Richard Halliday. He is, and always was, unabashedly a painter of abstractions, doggedly probing his inner self with restless energy through works of art that hang on walls and that lend themselves, not to deconstruction but to formal analysis. They are not about class or race or gender — they deal in universal truths and not on contingencies. They do not address issues nor are they ideologically driven. In short, Richard Halliday is a modernist in a time when even postmodernist art feels dated. Yet, although Halliday’s large paintings seem familiar, they are, at the same time, refreshingly vital and free.

Since the early 1970s, Halliday had worked in series, always constructing his abstractions in terms of figure/ground relationships and constantly exploiting the tension that results from a creative process that is both directed and “automatic”. Characteristically, Halliday’s paintings — whether in pastel, charcoal, acrylic or oil on canvas or paper, large or small — reveal the unmistakable presence of an artist who plays his lines like a fine instrument.

The art of Richard Halliday grows directly out of American Abstract Expressionism and Canadian and clusters of coloured pigment on canvas seem to make tangible and visible that which is essentially intangible and invisible. What gives the work of abstract artists like Halliday its potency is the expression of a part of the self that goes beyond the vicissitudes of daily life to encompass something more elemental: a core essence of being that is more than the sum of its parts. The paintings are the result of vigorous and spontaneous application of paint to canvas, creating images that are drawn, in inexplicable ways, from a wellspring of life experience. The idea of Abstract Expressionism and, in particular, the gestural abstraction practiced by Halliday, is that broad movements of the body, especially the arms and upper torso, are the physical, outward conduits of inner feelings that find expression through a direct, instinctive and unpremeditated process. The resulting work is as much the product of elements beyond the artist’s control as it is of his conscious will. Natural forces like gravity, the physical properties of matter like paint viscosity, and chance play a significant part in the creation of the paintings. At the same time, the intent and measured input of the artist is a critical determinant in the process. This does not undermine the premise fundamental to Abstract Expressionism, that an artistic creation generated and fuelled by spontaneity and impulse reveals something essential about the artist that who made it. As a projection of self, abstract art is essentially experiential, wherein the freedom and untrammelled release of the mark-making process creates a very intense and meaningful experience for the artist. The role of the viewer is one of reception, absorption and transformation. Halliday says that his lines…”direct you to read the space I create for you to experience.”

In Halliday’s art, there is a tension between chance and purpose, chaos and order, between randomness and design. This dynamic antithesis can be found in all of a Halliday’s work from early 1970s to the present. In an untitled series done in 1987, control, measure and balance are revealed in the uniform stabilizing background and in the straight lines that define geometrical shapes in the centre of the pictorial space. Yet this central image is ripped apart, invaded or overrun by an impulsive and urgent torrent of coloured lines that seem to express primal forces. In the current Constellation series, the central image yields to an all-over configuration: a rhythmic, spiraling calligraphy of white lines on black ground. Yet the dichotomy between reason and passion is as evident as ever. The ground is firm, bold and assertive — a solid wall of black pigment applied with a sure hand.