For our December Manc of the Month, we had a chat with the fantastic Alfred Halliday! Alfred is a Manchester-based abstract artist whose work combines bright block colours, portraiture and can be seen on all sorts of surfaces, from paper to plant pots! Keep reading to hear all about Alfred’s practice, processes and more.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to our Cotton On Manchester readers
Alfred Halliday: ‘Hello, I am Alfred I am an 84 year old artist that was born and lives in Greater Manchester. I regard my creativity as being as natural as breathing. I have never seen my creativity as being a separate part of my being, it is more like my sixth sense. I have created art on all kinds of materials and I am very much of the firm belief that when inspiration flows through you you need to embrace it! Let it flow from you and express it on preferably the first medium you can find before it slips away, whether it be on a torn piece of cardboard, a glass bottle or the reverse of a gas bill! You must allow your creative spirit to do its lively dance before it wishes to rest again. I truly believe that my best works have never been realised but have flickered through my psyche while I am sleeping. My daughter and I decided that it was about time at the grand old age of 80 I showed the world my art. We opened my Etsy shop and I have ever since been amazed at the positive reaction to my work from people all over the world. It is really hard for me to believe just how much people like my art, I have been truly overwhelmed by people’s positive reaction and I do not think it will ever quite sink in. Gabrielle tells me that I had better hurry up and get more confident about my art before it is too late! It is doubtful that I ever will and is it not always the way for us tortured artists!’
COM: We love the bright colours that feature throughout your portfolio. What inspires your colour palette?
AH: ‘I have always loved primary colours in their purist form. They make my heart dance in the most joyful of ways. I want to express this joy to others through my art. Even in my darkest moments of my life my creations have oozed colour. Looking back in all my years as an artist I have only ever created three dark and mournful works. I want to emancipate colour, colour can and does have the power to enrich peoples lives, it brightens up a dull day and can change the most mundane of experiences into the most fun. Many people are afraid of colour I often hear people saying that they can not wear this or that because even though they love the garment it is too bright. Why on earth can you not wear it?! Life is way too short! The colours in my work have a duality to them they both harmonise and contrast at the same time. Colour enhances our quality of life so embrace it!’
COM: You paint on all sorts of surfaces including onto bottles and plates. What is your favourite material to work with?
AH: ‘My favourite medium to work with is Foamex packaging board and Sharpie pens, strange but true! Before I became frail with many health issues I would not have been able to choose a favourite material. I loved everything from sandstone and a chisel to oil paint on glass and even a toothpick to etch! My daughter received a parcel in the post it was packaged with a material called Foamex. I had just returned home from a long stay in hospital and was weak but as soon as I saw the flat, smooth white surface of the Foamex board I was immediately seduced and I had to create art upon it. The board is so easy to work with and with my health problems it is lightweight and the Sharpie pens dry instantly upon it. I can create art incredibly quickly it is most satisfying. I am too weak to handle sandstone and even mixing oil paints has become too much of an effort. Foamex is such an illuminating medium to work with it has certainly liberated me. One wonders what Vincent Van Gogh would of created with Foamex and a Sharpie if he were alive today.’
COM: Can you tell us a bit more about how you got into art?
AH: :Like I stated earlier art has always been such a strong part of me. It was not until I went to school that my artistic talents became recognised. Maths and the sciences were not my strong point and art seemed effortless to me and I thrived when engaging in it. My father had been a mechanic and he had built a lot of things, I remember his detailed technical drawings and him making galleon boats out of wood. Some of my earliest art works were drawn in pencil in the back of my Robin Hood school reading book and I do believe Gabrielle still has this book with my drawings inside to this day. What finally made my mind up was a trip to The Louvre in Paris with school, I saw the Van Gogh’s and that was it! When I saw Vincent’s art work it was like I had returned home to a very familiar place.’
COM: What is your favourite piece of work that you’ve made?
AH: ‘If I can choose one painting that is my most favourite it would have to be ‘Tropical Tango’, I think this piece typifies my strong cubist influences. I particularly like the colours of this piece, the construction and the harmonic natural fluidity of the figures. This piece is all about harmony, harmony of the dancers, harmony of the cubist style and harmony amongst humans. Many of my artworks depict people of different colours, this is a constant narrative in my work. I like to portray people of various colours and creeds living in complete multicultural harmony. The human body is a great vehicle of which to interpret in a surreal or cubist style. These shapes and forms bind the picture together perfectly. I am more interested in shapes and colour rather than attempting a realistic human form.’
Cotton On MCR: You mention on your Etsy bio that Picasso is a big influence. Can you tell us more about how you are influenced by him?
AH: ‘Picasso has had the strongest influence of all artists upon my work, this genius was so refreshingly different for his time. His vision completely hits me! The shapes, the colour, the contrast and the drama oh and what drama it is through his expression. I admire the primitive and tribal influences in his work and he did exactly what he wanted to do in his spontaneous, flowing, direct and unapologetic way.’
COM: What challenges have you faced as an artist and how have you overcome them?
AH: ‘When I was a young man there was not the same opportunities as there are today to attend art college. I was thrown into national service at the age of 18 and when I left the RAF regiment there was an expectation to take over the running of my father’s car spares shop in Glossop. I ran Peak Auto Spares for forty years but knew it was not my true calling. In-between serving customers I created art at the back of the shop with hardboard and car paint sample pots. An example of which is shown here this large industrial scene I painted in a fairly traditional style. Another challenging time was leaving hospital after being there for six months in 2016 . I was too weak to create any kind of art at all but as I said previously Foamex and Sharpies came to my rescue!’
COM: What are your hobbies and interests outside of art?
AH: ‘I am also a musician and a writer I love most music genres. I play five musical instruments and when I was younger and stronger I regularly played at jazz and blues gigs. My love of jazz is apparent in my art and when I create a piece depicting musicians I want the artwork to come alive I want to give the impression that the musicians are almost bursting through the canvas. I want the viewer to see, hear and feel the musical energy. I love to write anything from solemn verse to surreal bizarre Pythonesque hilarious pieces. One of my favourite past times is making people laugh and bringing joy. I try and incorporate this spirit and enthusiasm for humans and their joyful interaction within my artistic works. I want the viewer to hear the laughter, feel the joy and join the party!’
COM: We have been speaking with your daughter Gabrielle, she has been helping you create an online presence. So Gabrielle, what do you think of your fathers work?
Gabrielle: ‘I feel INCREDIBLY blessed to have such an amazing father, his work really is uniquely special. I have been surrounded by warm intense love and my father’s art since I took my first breath and from the very beginning, life was magical because of this. He and his art are as one, his generous and warm intensely loving nature manifests itself through his creations. My father’s art oozes generosity, it is incredibly giving and abundant. It transforms the mundane into a glittering reality for all! It is art that is unapologetically real and unapologetically true, his creations have a life and an energy that go on way beyond the limitations of the canvas, the glass or the ceramic. My father brings such joy to the world, when he was seriously ill in hospital years ago he still managed to make others laugh and it is this same spirit that still creates an endless abundance of art despite multiple health issues and being frail. I am so incredibly privileged to be able to witness daily to such beautiful creativity from such an awe inspiring indomitable soul.’
COM: Finally, if you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
AH: ‘If I could live in any piece of my art it would have to be my painting ‘At Ronnie’s,’ it tells of a time when I was physically at my prime. I played music at various venues, my reactions, my mind, my improvisation was sharp and I was on point! ‘At Ronnie’s’ also speaks of a time when my late wife and I frequented the famous Ronnie Scotts jazz club in London. Gabrielle was a little under age for the club entrance but we used to sneak her in to enjoy the musical feasts. I could not want for anything more, my dearly missed beloved wife Kathleen was at my side, we would hold hands and the live music would fill our whole being and dance joyfully in our hearts. This period of my life was full of bountiful love and creativity.’
Special thanks to Alfred’s daughter Gabrielle for helping facilitate this interview!