Harry Kiyooka is a generous person and as I perused his space, looked at his objects and listened intently to his stories, I had an experience of humility and love…something that transcended art, and spilled out as stories of the heart. His narratives about art history, making art, Venice, the Aegean, framing and establishing, along with his wife, Katie, the KOA Centre…all reached deeply into my core. I will try, through images and brief captions to express a bit of that.
Tucked against a wall…a monumental piece from Harry’s Aegean Series. He smiles as he tells us that he built his studio with a revised ‘garage’ package in order to accommodate the size of some of his canvases. Immediately, I liked this guy!
As we gazed upon recent and forever-evolving figurative works, we learned of Harry’s use of familial portraits including the subject of his wife, Katie and family cat…portraits of passed family members. He is linking his contemporary subjects to memory and relationships, as well as remembering subjects from art historical contexts.
He engaged us with a dynamic narrative that connects the Pierrot (Gilles) figure by Antonio Watteau circa 1717(as found in the Louvre) encountering a collective of contemporary figures of his creation.
“And now he’s come up with another surprise. In late November, the Herringer Kiss gallery in Calgary will present a “new” body of work, featuring one of the most challenging subjects in the history of art — Venice. Who knew that this abstract artist has been painting images of Venice for half a century? The exhibition will feature approximately 20 works, including oil paintings, sketches and watercolours. All the paintings are representational, with clearly recognizable subject matter, rendered in a vigorous style that can be described as a cross between impressionism and expressionism.
The Venice works don’t constitute a series exactly, but instead represent a beloved subject which the artist returned to over and over again, over an extended period of time. Kiyooka had spent three memorable and formative years (1958 to 1961) as a young artist in Italy, returning many times from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Venice was a source of endless fascination for him, and his youthful rapture became a lifelong obsession. He was enamoured with the city — its stunning palaces, churches, museums, bridges and canals, and especially its light. Kiyooka admired the Venetian artists of the Renaissance, like Titian, Giorgione, Tintoretto and Veronese; the 18th century veduti painters Canaletto and Guardi; and Turner and Monet, who captured the mysterious and shifting beauty of the city in the 19th century. Like them, Kiyooka painted the famous sites at different times of day and in variable conditions, including the Grand Canal with its resplendent palazzi and the Piazza San Marco.
Kiyooka felt compelled to grapple with the formal problems presented by this famous but elusive subject. The oil paintings are studio works based on photographs, sketches and watercolours done over the years in situ. The canvases share an intense sense of painterly ardour, built up with layers of heavily encrusted impasto, animated by evanescent light which glows on the surfaces of structures and in reflections on the water. There’s something deeply private about these passionate works, wrestled from time, place and imagination. This may explain Kiyooka’s reluctance to show them publicly. Seen together for the first time, these beautiful paintings will reveal what an extraordinary painter Kiyooka is: truly a painter’s painter.”
It was fascinating to hear about the process of creating the Kalpa paintings and to observe the variety of forms that these paintings take. Harry pointed out that on the back of some panels, he will make notations of the numbers of layers and corresponding colours he applies, a calculated and exacting process. Of Kalpa, Harry shared and it is further explained by Wikipedia…
Buddha had not spoken about the exact length of the Maha-kalpa in number of years. However, he had given several astounding analogies to understand it.
1. Imagine a huge empty cube at the beginning of a kalpa, approximately 16 miles in each side. Once every 100 years, you insert a tiny mustard seed into the cube. According to the Buddha, the huge cube will be filled even before the kalpa ends.
2. Imagine a gigantic rocky mountain at the beginning of kalpa, approximately 16 x 16 x 16 miles (dwarfing Mt. Everest). You take a small piece of silk and wipe the mountain once every 100 years. According to the Buddha, the mountain will be completely depleted even before the kalpa ends.
In one situation, some monks wanted to know how many kalpas had died so far. The Buddha gave the analogy:
1. If you count the total number of sand particles at the depths of the Ganges river, from where it begins to where it ends at the sea, even that number will be less than the number of passed kalpas.
As you gaze upon Harry Kiyooka’s works…this is the sort of spectacle one experiences.
Around this corner, Harry spoke of his brother, Roy Kiyooka. He hesitated. This was a deeply personal time. He showed us where several pieces of Roy’s sculpture are stored, waiting for the construction of the art pavilion, in order that these remarkable pieces be appropriately shared with so many others.