Roy Kiyooka

About the Artist

Roy Kiyooka was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1926, a second-generation Japanese-Canadian. He grew up in Calgary, Alberta, where among more than 12,000 other Japanese Canadians he was registered as an ‘enemy alien’ during the Second World War.  He attended the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now named SAIT Polytechnic) in Calgary from 1946 to 1949. He then worked in the city as a display artist, teaching an evening class at the Institute, and in 1955 received a scholarship that allowed him to study for a year in Mexico.

Although he eventually settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kiyooka lived, worked and studied in several cities. In 1956 he took a position as an instructor at Regina College in Regina, Saskatchewan. Kiyooka was instrumental – along with Art McKay and Ron Bloore – in inviting Barnett Newman to the Emma Lake Artists Workshop in 1959. While Kiyooka associated with the painters who would become known as the “Regina Five,” he left Regina to take a position at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) in 1959.

Over the course of his career Kiyooka was a painter, photographer, musician, filmmaker, poet, and teacher. He taught at several universities, retiring from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1991 after a thirty-year teaching career.

Kiyooka is regarded as one of Canada’s first  multi-disciplinaryCombining a number of areas of study--disciplines--in one practice, for example, visual art, music, and theatre.  artists. His visual artwork included paintings, sculpture, film, and photographs. Later in his career visual art no longer had the same meaning for him, and he turned to writing and music. He published several books, including a book of poems nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. In 1978 he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Kiyooka died in 1994. We are fortunate to have audio and video records that provide further insights into his life and works.  You can access these records in the Related Links section provided in the information about his artwork 32 Frames from Tobin Street.

we stood in the back-alley
looking up at its array of white blossoms
and under our breath say
how lucky we are to find such a splendid
clapboardhouse with its own tall pear tree.
eight brimfilled years spoke to me as I put the last sliver in
my mouth and suckt up all the sweet pear juice.

– Roy Kiyooka, Pear Tree Poem

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning