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Athabasca University

Roy Kiyooka

Roy Kiyooka is recognized as one of Canada's most significant abstract painters, but in the 1960s he began to publish poetry and experiment with different media and thus changed the course of his life and career. After his death in 1994  his literary works received wide critical reception through a series of publications. He is now often described as a poet and painter who also worked as a sculptor, photographer, musician, film-maker and teacher.

Roy Kenzie Kiyooka was born in small city of  Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1926,  into a family of second-generation Japanese-Canadians. They moved to Calgary where Roy went to school. The family was dislocated to the small town of Opal, Alberta, like many other Japanese-Canadians who were interned during WWII. In 1946  Roy returned to Calgary to attend the Alberta Institute of Technology and Art where he studied with Jock Macdonald, of the Group of Seven.  He married Monica Dealtry Baker, an architect in 1955.  He won a scholarship to the  Instituto Allende in Mexico. He was hired to teach at the Regina College of Art in 1956. At the Emma Lake Artists' Workshops sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan he arranged for New York artists, Clement Greenberg and Barnett Newman to teach about abstract expressionism. During this period Kiyooka made his "Emma Lake" and  "Hoarfrost Paintings".  By 1960 he was in Vancouver teaching at the Vancouver Art School (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design). In Vancouver he organized  multimedia shows and poetry readings with his students and became involved with young poets at UBC and their newsletter Tish. At this time he went to Japan to reunite with his sister, Mariko and wrote his first book of poems, Kyoto Airs (1964).  In 1965 Kiyooka and his family moved to Montreal because he was teaching at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University).  At about this time his hard-edge paintings began to receive international recognition and Kiyooka earned awards, but ironically he was moving away from painting and experimenting with different media: poetry, photography, sculpture, film, video and music. In 1969 he moved back to Vancouver to teach at the University of  British Columbia. He was commissioned to make a sculpture for the Canadian pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. While the large metal sculpture was being constructed by the local workers, Kiyooka took photographs of the construction workers' discarded gloves on the ground. These images became the basis for a photographic series and a book of poetry StoneD Gloves: Alms for Soft Palms (1970).

We will focus on his writing in this paragraph.  In Vancouver  Kiyooka  played a key roll in the development of experimental art and writing. He became a link between the young poets of B.C. and the  Coach House Press writers of Toronto.  This press published his second book of poems, Nevertheless These Eyes (1967)  then StoneD Gloves and The Fontainebleau Dream Machine (1977).  In his poems he experimented with language; its precision and ambiguities and employed  the white space on the page, syntax, the structure of words and double meanings. This free-form style is evident in a 1971 poem, "From Roy Kiyooka"

in the face of
'your words'  ---  these: a response
to Gail Dexter (center spread
of  the  5c review  ---  her,  in Kyoto
Here  ---
There,  where you  (also)  face
the same world
'Left'  is
as  'Right'  is,  a standard stance.

His StoneD Gloves project demonstrates his work with a collage of photographs and poems all inspired by the same images. In 1971 Kiyooka was hired to head the painting department at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax.  He was now divorced and wrote about his travel experiences in a series of letters which were later collected in a book, Transcanada Letters (1975). By 1973 Kiyooka was back at UBC teaching.  From 1974 to 1982 he was in a relationship with Daphne Marlatt one of the poet/writers of the Tish group and of The Capilano Review. Kiyooka published in many forms and in many different venues. In his Vancouver studio he established Blue Mule a press to publish his writing and art. See the attached bibliography for Roy Kiyooka for more specific information about his book titles.

After Kiyooka died unexpectedly in 1994, his friend Roy Miki edited his poems in Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka (1997).  Daphne Marlatt edited Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka (1997), a series of interviews with his mother in Japanese and translated by him into English. In 2005 Smaro Kamboureli edited his Pacific Rim Letters. His daughter, Fumiko Kiyooka produced a film in 2011, Reed: The Life and Works of Roy Kiyooka. She also published a short biography about her father in The Bulletin: a journal of Japanese Canadian community, history, culture. See the link below.

Bibliography for Roy Kiyooka
Remembering  Roy Kiyooka

Updated October 11 2016 by Student & Academic Services

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