Calgary painter and printmaker Harry Kiyooka dead at 94

Harry Kiyooka, famed for his role in the Calgary arts community, died last Friday at the age of 94. 

Those in the city’s arts community say Kiyooka’s work will have a lasting impact

Painter and printmaker Harry Kiyooka is described by Calgary gallery owners as having an impact and a legacy that will 'last forever.' (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Harry Kiyooka, famed for his role in the Calgary arts community, died last Friday at the age of 94. 

The board of directors for the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre (KOAC) confirmed his death, though the cause was not immediately known. 

Kiyooka and his wife, sculptor Katie Ohe, founded KOAC, a centre dedicated to contemporary arts.

Kiyooka was known as a trailblazing abstract artist, a painter and printmaker as well as a curator, collector, mentor and educator.

"Anything to do with advancing contemporary art, he was involved in," said Deborah Herringer Kiss, owner at Herringer Kiss Gallery, which represents the work of both Kiyooka and Ohe. 

"His impact and his legacy will last forever, for generations to learn about him and all he's done." 

Kiyooka, who was born in Calgary in 1928, overcame prejudice and poverty to become an artist, said Herringer Kiss. 

Kiyooka traveled to Italy to study art at the age of 30. Upon his return, Kiyooka took up a teaching position at the University of Alberta Calgary campus, where he remained for the next 27 years. 

'We wouldn't be here without him'

He was a founding member of the Calgary Contemporary Arts Society and a member of both the Alberta Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy.

In 1988, Kiyooka was awarded a 125th Anniversary Medal of Confederation for his contribution to the community in establishing the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts, now known as Contemporary Calgary. 

Ryan Doherty is the senior curator at Contemporary Calgary. He says that the mark Kiyooka left on the city's art community — both public facing and behind the scenes — was profound. 

"He's really able to create a great dialogue where Calgary is heavily involved just because of his work. So there's no question that he's helped to make this place what it is," said Doherty. 

Doherty said he fondly remembers seeing some of Kiyooka's work at the University of Lethbridge. Those pieces were among those that were adding something new to the discourse of abstract art at the time, he said. 

"We're absolutely in his debt and we wouldn't be here without him and his many contributions."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener