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Linda Craddock 932-1934
"Artist Harry Kiyooka"
Artist Harry Kiyooka.
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Harry Kiyooka , "3," 2007, drawing on paper.
HARRY KIYOOKA, Victims Series
Herringer Kiss Gallery, Calgary
November 17 to December 15, 2007
By Amber Bowerman
In June 2005, the skies opened up over southern Alberta unleashing devastating rains. On a quiet patch of land in Springbank, just west of Calgary, celebrated Alberta painter Harry Kiyooka and his wife, sculptor Katie Ohe, scrambled to save items from their waterlogged basement. These were no ordinary keepsakes tucked away in dusty cellar corners — decades of drawings and sketchbooks were in danger of ruin. Among the rescued relics was a haunting series of drawings Kiyooka began “in the rather dim and distant past.”
“Katie and I were in London in 1968,” Kiyooka, now in his 80s, recalls. “Internationally there were all kinds of riots and war and violence. In our studio we had a black-and-white TV and you’d see it on the news every night. I started cutting out clippings, to research drawings based on violence, and to depict the people being victimized.”
The “victim drawings” salvaged from Kiyooka’s flooded basement depicted casualties of global political unrest, like the Algerian War of Independence. They spanned from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s. “I realized that maybe I could do something with them,” he says.
Not long after that, Kiyooka was invited by Calgary gallerist Deborah Herringer Kiss to exhibit new work. It was no small request. After a string of bad experiences (one in which a Vancouver gallery locked their doors and made off with his inventory) Kiyooka “opted out of the commercial arts scene” in the ‘70s. He hasn’t shown new work in 30 years.
But if anyone could convince him to show again, it was Herringer Kiss, who served with Kiyooka on the curatorial committee at Calgary’s Triangle Gallery and assisted on fundraisers. Kiyooka developed a deep respect for the gallerist. “She has a vast capacity to support and relate to artists,” he says. Given carte blanche, Kiyooka opted to show the salvaged series — washed drawings put through a screening process to achieve a detachment from the subject.
“When you’re looking at an image on TV, there’s a camera man with a camera, so you’re already one step removed. Then it goes to the editing room where it’s sliced up, so that’s another step removed. By the time it appears on the television it’s many steps removed from the actual event. Every step of the way there’s a kind of a further disengagement or detachment or editing of what the actual event was,” Kiyooka says.
“There are so many components in terms of censoring and self interest, and it colours everything you see in the contemporary media. This (series) is, in an odd way, exploring those elements and using them in such a way that I can create my own images. I have control over the drawings I’ve done, but I’m using different kinds of protocol to make an image that infers all of that detachment, but is still uniquely drawn.”
Kiyooka’s mixed-media drawings are halftone images, like photographs in newspapers and magazines. Some are stark — a few simple lines represent a fallen soul, others toy cleverly with perceptions. One, at first, appears to be a landscape, but is actually the crumpled form of a lifeless body. A melancholic compassion in the images reflects empathy for the victims. His family lived through Japanese internment during World War II.
“Artists have always tried to deal with the consequences of war,” he says. “The more interesting thing to me is that it’s an unusual show for a commercial gallery.”
On that point, Herringer Kiss thinks Kiyooka is too modest. “He downplays his importance,” she says. “He’s got a long history, he’s got a lot to say if people take the time to listen.”
Kiyooka studied art from 1953 to 1961, including a three-year stint in Italy on Canada Council scholarships. Over 27 years teaching at the University of Calgary he inspired innumerable young artists. He was one of the first in Canada to use silkscreen in an abstract way, and in 1982 he was a founding member of the Calgary Contemporary Arts Society and was instrumental in establishing the Triangle Gallery six years later. “He’s been a quiet force,” says Herringer Kiss.
Represented by: Herringer Kiss Gallery, Calgary.