I remember when I first met Harry Kiyooka. I was a recent graduate from the Art History program at the University of Calgary and working at a small gallery. I had seen Harry Kiyooka’s paintings in faculty shows at the Nickle Arts Museum and had heard tales of the man when he was a professor at the UofC. (I was glad however, I didn’t have him as a prof as tales of how tough he could be had become folk lore!) I was organizing a fundraising exhibition with another great artist from the University, Bill Laing, to commemorate the 34 anniversary of the print department and Harry Kiyooka had graciously agreed to donate an edition of a print from his Victim Series. He came into the gallery to drop it off and he was this small, soft-spoken Japanese man with long hair, glasses and a goatee. I was tongue tied and he just smiled kindly and off he went.
A short time later, Harry asked me if I would join the curatorial committee at the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts which Harry was instrumental in creating. I was so honoured, not to mention humbled by my fellow members. I worked with Harry and the committee and began to understand Harry Kiyoooka, the man, better. He was passionate but in a quiet, steadfast way. He could be stubborn and not easily back down when he felt strongly about something. He had a quiet, determined manner and was a powerful force at the Triangle.
Years later when I finally set out to start my own gallery I asked Harry if he would join me as one of my gallery artists and he agreed. I honestly didn’t expect him to say yes as he hadn’t had gallery representation in decades and had a notorious distrust of dealers so I was again honouored and very proud.
I remember the first time I went to the Kiyooka Ohe home out in Springbank to do a studio visit. Harry’s wife, the great Katie Ohe, graciously showed me around the house and let me spin and touch all of her sculpture while Harry sat on a chair in the hallway and waited. He then took me to his studio or “annex” as he called it and was completely stunned. His studio was the nicest gallery space I had ever seen! Recently built, it had soaring ceiling with skylights, terracotta stained concrete floors and on the walls were Harry’s massive Venetian paintings. And on plinths throughout were his brother, Roy’s, amazing plywood sculptures.
Today, we’ve just finished the final touches on the installation of “A Parallax: Harry Kiyooka & Roy Kiyooka” and I’m thinking back to the trajectory that led to this exhibition, I hope people will appreciate the gift that is the lives and works of Harry Kiyooka and his older brother, Roy, on the 20th anniversary of Roy’s death.