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Joseph Kyle

Posted: April 12, 2005
} Joseph Kyle By Robert Amos Joseph Kyle died in Victoria March 16, 2005. A Memorial service for him will be held at 2.30, Tuesday April 5, at the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Victoria. When working at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1975, I was assigned the task of overseeing an exhibition by the students and staff of the Northwest Coast Institute of the Arts. This “institute” was located in a loft on Fort Street, next to the unregenerate vastness of Open Space. The NWCIA itself seemed full of purpose and the artwork selected bespoke a tradition of quality and determination. The judicious selection was made by the principal, Joseph Kyle. Gaia #24, painted by Joseph Kyle in 1986 I got to know Kyle better when the school moved into the former Bank Street Elementary School and was renamed the Victoria College of Art (where it continues today, vigorous and under the direction of John Harris). The old school building was solid, well-lit and redolent with the aroma of oil paint and pipe tobacco. When not roaming the studios, Kyle occupied the principal’s office. There, his briar pipe was always to hand, and tobacco had cured his naturally resonant voice to a purring bass burr. His effusive welcome was always sincere. Anytime I met him, his interest in my projects and art in general completely engaged us. At that time, he surrounded himself with teachers who are legendary in Victoria. Bill Porteous taught anatomy for artists; Jim Gordaneer taught oil painting; and the late Jack Wise added a psychedelic and cosmic spirituality which informed his Asian-influenced painting practice. Kyle’s own interest - geometric colour-field abstraction - was an active principle in the esthetic and philosophical mix that swirled around the College. The forcefulness of Kyle’s personality and the soundness of his ideas were such that each of those teacher’s styles, during this period, came under his influence. Kyle, with his wife Annette, was the father of six children. Paul, the third, opened Kyle’s Gallery in 1977 as showplace for artists associated with the College. Joseph Kyle later opened the high-minded and short-lived Victoria College of Art Gallery on Yates Street. The contributions made to our city by these galleries has been considerable. Kyle himself was interested in all the arts. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on February 24, 1923, he moved to Saskatchewan in 1930 and to Vancouver in 1940. After marriage to Annette in 1946, the Kyles moved to Montreal where Joe studied music composition at McGill University. He returned to Vancouver later to work as a producer in the budding film industry and produce programs for CBC. To be media-savvy in Vancouver in 1967 was to be where it was at. The democratization of video, cheap air travel, Canada Council, happenings, be-ins, draft-dodgers, Simon Fraser University... west coast society was in ferment. Kyle was there at the right time to be the founder of Intermedia, a pioneering focus for collaboration and innovation in the arts. From this Intermedia gathering, generations of Vancouver art and media cooperatives have evolved. Coming to Victoria in 1973, Kyle founded the Victoria College of Art. This school has always been traditional, even a little bit old-fashioned. It has never abandoned its focus, which seems to be to provide practical training for painters. Perhaps that’s because Kyle himself was at heart a painter. Joseph Kyle didn’t exhibit much, but he produced a considerable quantity of richly satisfying, purely abstract paintings. Paul Kyle has written, “Kyle’s great use of colour combined with geometric form provides the opportunity for a unique visual experience that can be truly inspirational and uplifting.” I think that’s the best we can say, for in the presence of these radiant canvases, gently pulsing with sonourous colour effects, words are less than usually useful. Three of Kyle’s bright compositions grace the public areas of the richly-appointed Macpherson Library at UVic. Sophisticated and esoteric, these paintings also work surprisingly well as public art. Undeterred by a quadruple bypass operation (1990) and cancer of the bladder (1995), Kyle continued creating large and challenging paintings until he was bedridden, two months before his death. On March 16, 2005, he died at home, in the arms of his family. Joseph Kyle was 82 years old. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2005Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B.C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at