Roy Kenzie Kiyooka was a talented multidisciplinary artist who worked as a painter, poet, photographer, filmmaker, writer, musician and sculptor. Kiyooka was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to parents of Japanese ancestry. He studied at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art ,now known as the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Art. In 1956, Kiyooka spent eight months in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Kiyooka was able to see the works of the great Mexican muralists Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros. Upon returning to Regina in the fall of 1956, Kiyooka began teaching at the Regina College, now known as the University of Regina.
Roy Kiyooka was a regular participant at the Emma Lake Artists’ workshops in the 1950s, and attended Barnett Newman’s famous workshop at Emma Lake in the summer of 1959. Kiyooka accepted a teaching position in 1959 at the Vancouver School of Art.
In the early 1960s, Kiyooka began to explore abstract painting and experimenting with different materials. Kiyooka’s celebrated paintings of the mid-1960s are described by Fernande Saint-Martin as “researches into the harmony of values, rather than pure colours. He is involved in configurations that play curved forms against each other-creating convex/concave tensions on orthogonal planes that affirm the surface. The ellipsoid forms feign volume by their placement and can be read as positive or negative. Kiyooka’s work reveals a concern for a familiar or literary significance within the language of abstract art particularly colour-painting and op-art.”1
In the late 1960s, Roy Kiyooka moved away from his familiar medium of painting and became involved in poetry, photography, cultural animation and conceptual art. Kiyooka played a major role in Vancouver’s cultural scene, including Intermedia, an artist’s run center. He organized poetry readings in Vancouver and later on in Montréal. A trip to Japan had stimulated a renewed interest in Japanese poetry and philosophy. Kiyooka published his poetry in a number of collections. The Pear Tree Pomes (1987) was short-listed for a Governor General’s award. Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka, a series of interviews with his mother, was published after his death, in 1997, as was Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy Kiyooka.
Roy Kiyooka had participated in the São Paulo Biennial of 1966 and in 1969 was commissioned to create a sculpture for Canadian Pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka. The Vancouver Art Gallery organized a retrospective of his work in 1975. In 1978, Kiyooka was awarded the Order of Canada for his achievements in painting and his successes as a teacher. Kiyooka had a fruitful teaching career throughout Canada, including at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montréal, in Halifax at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and finally at the University of British Columbia from which he retired a few years before his death. A collection of Roy Kiyooka’s correspondence, written between 1975 and 1985, Pacific Rim Letters, was published in 2005.
Denise LeClerc, National Gallery of Canada
Fernande Sainte-Martin, Art International, vol. IX, No. 9-10, December, 1965, p. 33., www.theCanadianencyclopedia.ca
Public and Corporate Collections:
- Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario
- Alberta Art Foundation, Edmonton, Alberta
- Art Bank, The Canada Council, Ottawa
- Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, B.C.
- Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario
- Art Gallery of York University, Toronto, Ontario
- Brock Hall Collection, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
- Canadian Industries Limited, Montreal, Quebec
- Department of External Affairs, Ottawa
- Devonian Group, Calgary, Alberta
- Imperial Life Assurance Company of Canada, Toronto, ON
- Museum London, London, Ontario
- Musee d’Art Contemporain, Montreal, Quebec
- The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
- Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan
- Sir George Williams University Art Galleries, Montreal, Quebec
- University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
- University of Calgary Art Gallery, Calgary, Alberta
- University of Victoira, Victoria, B.C.
- The Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.