"Spirit of the Conifer" - FAR2016-028.2_1

FAR2016-028.2_1

"Spirit of the Conifer"

Medium:Acrylic painting on canvas
Geography: Toronto, Canada
Date: c. 1999
Dimensions:
Ht 91.5 × Wt 117 cm
Object number: 2016.87.2
Credit Line: Gift of Yoshiko Sunahara
Not on view
Description

Walter Sunahara was born in 1935 in Vancouver, British Columbia – a nissei or second generation Japanese Canadian. His parents were successful members of the Vancouver community, owning fishing boats and a guest house. However, during WW2 all people of Japanese descent were interned in the remote interior of British Columbia, and their businesses seized and sold. In later years, Walter had a recurring nightmare where he was a small boy standing before a door that was about to be broken down. Walter was interned with his parents at Bay Farm, Slocan, where the camp sat below a brooding conifer-covered mountain. Various aspects of this experience can be seen in Walter's work throughout his life, especially his paintings.

 

Moving east after the war he earned a degree from the Ontario College of Art, Toronto in 1959. While a student, in the fall of 1957, Walter and some of his cohort founded the Garret Gallery on the south-west corner of John and Stephanie Streets. The group had often met at Walter’s parents’ home in Toronto on Homewood Avenue. Three of the artists lived in the gallery and paid most of the rent, while the others assisted with upkeep. The shoestring budget demanded some imaginative solutions, for example the wall treatment in the gallery was burlap that had been procured from a new cement sidewalk on Bloor Street.

 

After graduating the Ontario College of Art, Walter then pursued graduate studies at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts (1960-63), specializing in Nihonga, a traditional expression of Japanese painting, and printmaking.  After trips to South-East Asia and Europe he came home to Canada to not only create art, but also share the means of creating art through education and eventually in arts administration. During his time at the Ontario Department of Education and the Ontario Arts Council, Walter was a key advocate and promoter of the visual arts community. He worked most determinedly to create opportunities and provide broader public exposure for Canadian First Nations artists and craftspeople. Walter's work with these communities led to him being honoured with an Eagle Feather by the Ontario First Nations Cultural Centres at M'Chigeeng First Nation.

 

In much of his later work his paintings have what appear to be ribbons running across the canvas. The curator of the "Founder Exhibit" at the Japanese Canadian Culture Centre Gallery, Toronto, 2017, Bryce Kanbara, writes: "the troubled memories of parting with loved ones, which lad lain dormant since childhood, pierced his artistic vision. As his wife, Yoshiko, explains, these paintings began as harmonious depictions of gardens or the natural environment, but each time, his intent succumbed to invasions of incongruous streaks and bands across the surface. The interjections were driven by Sunahara's tormented remembrance of Japanese crowds at dock-side - the departees on board and the well-wishers below attempting to maintain links with one another for as long as they could by grasping the ends of paper tape cascading from the ship. They're abstract paintings that sublimate themes of historic and personal separation, anxiety and loss."

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