MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
FEBRUARY 18 – MARCH 19, 2005
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2005 AT 8 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
1004 MACLEOD TRAIL S.E., CALGARY, ALBERTA
Stride presents GREEN SPRING, a series of Op-art paintings by local artist Harry Kiyooka. This series of work was inspired by the scene of the Fraser River choked with logs in a spring runoff. Continuing the op-art tradition Kiyooka’s paintings exploit the visual flashing, vibrations and movements through colour and shapes.
HARRY KIYOOKA is a senior artist and has been recognized for his many National and International exhibitions. For the past 30 years he has served on local, provincial and national boards and he is a founding member of the Calgary Contemporary Arts Society.
When it was decided that we would like to show the work of senior Calgary artist, Harry Kiyooka, at Stride Gallery, I phoned Harry and extended to him the board’s invitation. Harry said he had some paintings that he had shown in Vancouver at the New Design Gallery in 1966 with fellow artist Tak Tanabe, and that they had come back and some were still unwrapped. I was intrigued. I remember, as a student at Alberta College of Art in the late seventies being knocked out by an exhibition of his paintings that Ron Moppett had curated for the college gallery. That exhibition included his magnificent Aegean Series as well as some of the work in this exhibition.
Harry speaks of returning from Europe in 1961, after a period of studying and painting, to a province where most artists were still working with landscape and figuration in a post-war manner. There were only a handful of artists working abstractly: Marion Nicholl, Ron Spickett, Doug Haynes, Max Bates and a few others. Harry had spent some time in Vancouver with his brother, Roy Kiyooka, who had already developed a signature hard-edged, geometric style. Harry was certainly aware of Roy’s painting, but he returned to Alberta at a time when formalist ideas were paramount in the international art world and he recalls that he did not feel beholden to any stylistic regime.
The works in this exhibition display a remarkable range in their colouration, opticality, materiality, and gestural variance. Note the brushtrokes in early paintings such as Sticks and Stones. They are loose, quick, thinly applied and not repainted. A middle period of this ongoing series finds the brushstrokes clean, dense and squared off – clearly formed. In the later period there are no brushstrokes as such. They have now become long thin rectangles with sharply taped edges that, in their assuredness, are at the limit of being purely graphic. It is these later works which enact most potently a certain opticality, a popping at the intersection of two crossed strokes on a background of a third colour, or a darkening of the edge of a stroke in relationship to its background: things seen but not there.
These unexpected jumps, these optical incidents, provide for what he refers to as a “discontinuity” in the paintings, and the space in these works — created by formal, spatial continuity and confounded by optical surprise— describe a state of being. “Discontinuous” is how he describes feeling at that time and it is remarkable how these paintings speak to “being” and of materiality. I came upon a striking quote last year in the catalogue of Philip Guston’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an essay by the curator, Michael Auping, which came to mind while I was looking again at Harry’s Aegean series:
“The Greeks idolized the finite, and therefore were masters of all grace, elegance, proportion, fancy, dignity, majesty—of whatever, in short, is capable of being definitely conceived by defined forms or thoughts. The moderns revere the infinite, and affect the indefinite as a vehicle of the infinite; hence their passions, their obscure hopes and fears, their wanderings through the unknown, their grander moral feelings, their more august conception of man as man, their future rather than their past—in a word, their sublimity.”
I joked with Harry about how in later works the strokes in these earlier paintings had migrated to the edges and arranged themselves in an orderly manner into friezes. They were from the Aegean series, his “Greek” paintings. Harry laughed and said, “They had to go somewhere,” and indeed they did. In that series, the friezes provide a material counterpoint to a vast and spiritual space.
Looking at this exhibition, one might not know how these paintings developed but for the title of a single work: “Spring Time on the Fraser,” from 1962. This painting is based on an experience Harry had of looking down from a bridge at the Fraser River, which was choked with logs in a spring runoff. This was a painting of something seen. Other titles of paintings from that time perhaps hint at similar sources: Blue Thaw (1962), Slowly to the Westward (1963). But most of the titles are ambiguous in the manner of the day. It is interesting to consider the development then, of a formal, abstract, visual language, arranged across the most privileged site of that historical moment, the picture plane, effortlessly proving its powers of extension, both laterally and spatially. It is potent in its opticality, and yet has its humble beginnings in the noticing of something.
Between the spiritual and the material resides perception. The spiritual doesn’t do anything because it doesn’t have to. Material doesn’t do anything because it can’t. Perception at least notices. Harry noticed a log jam.
CHRIS CRAN is an artist living and working in Calgary