Spotlight: A Major Retrospective Celebrates the Life and Work of Joseph Kyle, One of Canada’s Most Prominent Abstract Artists

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About the Artist: Originally from Belfast, Ireland, Joseph Kyle (1923­–2005) emigrated to Canada in 1930, and ultimately became a fixture of the country’s art scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Alongside artists Jack Shadbolt and Victor Doray, Kyle was a progenitor of the Intermedia Society, an association of Canadian artists who collaborated on events and gatherings. After moving to Victoria in 1973, Kyle founded the eminent Victoria College of Art in 1976—as well as the Victoria College of Art Gallery a decade later—where he served as its principal for 25 years while continuing his own artistic practice. Steeped in the artistic milieu of Canada for decades, Kyle was able to engage with and push the boundaries of some of the period’s leading modes and movements, and became particularly well known for his use of geometric abstraction. Noted as an artist of “outstanding significance and national importance” by the Canadian Cultural Review Board, Kyle is recognized today as one of the country’s most influential 20th-century artists.

What You Need to Know: Founded in 2005 as Elan Fine Art, and rebranded last year as Paul Kyle Gallery, Joseph’s son Paul has maintained a mission of preserving his father’s legacy and expanding awareness of his work. Currently on view, the gallery is presenting “Joseph Kyle: The Soul of an Artist,” coinciding with the centennial of Joseph’s year of birth. On view through April 29, 2023, the exhibition is the first major showing of the artist’s work in over two decades. Known for working in series that were often comprised more than 50 works, the show highlights both Joseph’s prodigious output as well as near-constant experimentation with shape and color. “Joseph Kyle: The Soul of an Artist” is accompanied by a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue with historical photographs and texts outlining the trajectory of the artist’s life and work.

Why We Like It: The paintings included in the exhibition emphasize the nuanced exploration of color and composition that Kyle ceaselessly engaged with over the course of his painting career. Where earlier works like (1989) employ a color scheme evocative of Fauvism and carefully delineated fields of color, paintings from only a few years later like (1993) see the artist instead overlaying his fields of color and exploring shades and tints as well as pure hue. While Kyle’s engagement with popular 20th-century styles such as geometric abstraction and Hard-edge painting is perhaps most evident, it was his development of techniques related to Op art that convey his skill and expertise of the medium. While Op art relies on the interplay of foreground and background to create an optical sensation through repeated abstract patterns, Kyle instead approached his compositions “synoptically.” His use of the synoptical—granting every element of the work equal emphasis—like in (2001) achieve “a language that is perpetually irreferential, ageless, and enduring.”

See featured works from the exhibition below.

Joseph Kyle, Ludus Coloris Series IV #5 (1989). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, (1989). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, Entelechy Series II #4 (1993). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, (1993). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, Entelechy Series II #42 (1993). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, (1993). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, Synoptica #19 (2001). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, (2001). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, Synoptica #29 (2002). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

Joseph Kyle, (2002). Courtesy of Paul Kyle Gallery, Vancouver.

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