Enriching the Arts

Featured Artist: Harry Kiyooka, MFA, RCA, ASA


Harry Kiyooka, Aegean#15


Now in his eighties, Harry Kiyooka. remains as passionate and as committed to his art as he ever was. Although his paintings may be read as abstracted landscapes, they are far more complex in terms of meaning, linked more to ideas than to places. Kiyooka’s art is the expression of philosophical ideas about time and space, including paintings as varied as his beautiful views of Venice, the highly refined Aegean series and, most recently, the mesmerizingly dense Kalpa works. He points out that he is still exploring metaphysical ideas: “So between the mid-1970s and the last few years, a space of over 40 years, the concept itself has been constant. The imagery has evolved but the idea has been constant. That’s kind of interesting because the problem for me was how to make that manifest in terms of a painting.” The challenge is to find a visual equivalent of an idea. This involves the process of translating an essentially abstract concept into paint applied onto a flat, two-dimensional surface. It has been his constant struggle and his constant joy.


Harry Kiyooka, Nilalohita

“In place of one mustard seed, one dot. And I used a spray gun to create thousands of dots.” In effect, by superimposing up to 50 layers, Kiyooka creates a sense of boundlessness with infinitesimal dots. The paintings are simultaneously abstract and concrete. Kiyooka sees them as a “… kind of literal translation in the painting in terms of the Vedic scriptures.” The creation of each painting is exceedingly labour-intensive, repetitive and above all, technical. The artist needs to premix his acrylic paints to a specific colour and consistency in order to spray a uniform field of tiny dots. He speeds up the drying by using a hairdryer. Then he applies another layer. He does this over and over again. One session usually lasts for several hours. The work is mechanically exacting and tedious, bearing no relationship to oil painting. While he is engaged in the Kalpa series, now in its sixth year, Kiyooka does not paint in oil, an activity he loves. Even though he does not enjoy the cumbersome procedure required to create a Kalpa painting, he forges on, determined to complete the series of 32 paintings, in order to bring the idea to fruition. He endures the process because he is satisfied on an aesthetic and conceptual level that these remarkable paintings embody the essence of the idea that preoccupies him. It is all about the idea.


Harry Kiyooka, The Aegean #3

Q&A with the ASA

ASA: Could you tell us about your influences?

Harry: I have long been interested in India, a country which my wife and I,  Katie Ohe visited on one memorable occasion. In 2008, I immersed myself in the ancient Vedic scriptures, Hindu accounts of time and space. I was taken with the imaginative and boundless breath of Kalpa as a unit of time in the calculation of a day in the life of Brahma. Thus began my fascination with the idea of the Kalpa, a measure of time encompassing a period of 4 billion, 320 thousand years. Time is envisioned as a gigantic cube, its passage marked by one tiny mustard seed which is inserted every 100 years. According to Buddha, the huge cube will be filled even before the Kalpa ends.

ASA: Which body of your work would you consider most successful to date?

Harry: My Aegean series executed in the 1970s were at their core about time and space, evoking a distant time and place while at the same time suggestive of boundless space and infinite time.

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The Alberta Society of Artists
Crossroads Art Centre
#302 – 1235 26th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 1R7
ASA Phone: (403) 265-0012

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