Of Light Itself

Reid Gallery

Of Light Itself

Tsuneko Kokubo

Tsuneko Kokubo has been telling stories through painting and performance art for more than 60 years. Of Light Itself presents a career spanning retrospective that situates her work within the wider contemporary art context.

Since 1994, Tsuneko’s practice has been based around her home in Silverton, BC. While it has been deeply influenced by the local ecology and a connection to the landscape, themes of displacement, belonging, and interconnectedness are woven throughout. Known for her vibrant paintings, performance pieces, set design, and choreography, this exhibition features a selection of Tsuneko’s work across all media.

In the Reid Gallery, hung salon style, are more than 80 works on canvas and paper. Ranging from the late 1950’s, when Tsuneko was a student at the Vancouver College of Art (now Emily Carr University) to 2023, these works document a life spent in the visual arts. Influenced as much by Japanese calligraphy and French Impressionism as her art school mentors Jack Shadbolt and Don Jarvis, the paintings are large, bold, and awash with colour. This is a painter capturing the essence of her subject, whether it is flowers in her garden, childhood memories, or Vancouver in the 1960’s. Narratives form within the works, adding layers of memory, metaphor, and personal symbolism to the already complex canvases. There is a deep sense of reverence for the natural world and the interdependence between all things.

A series of documentaries and performances featuring the work and life of Tsuneko are projected on a loop in the West Gallery. If her paintings capture a vibrant sense of colour, then her performances capture an essential sense of movement and being in the world. Drawing widely on traditional Japanese ceremony, contemporary dance, circus performance, and street theatre, this work is comfortable with ambiguity and emotion. It moves beyond representative depiction and aims towards interrogating the essential underpinnings of existence itself. This is all undertaken, with a gentle touch and the occasional sense of humour, often with the natural world forming the backdrop.

This is the second iteration for Of Light Itself. The original exhibition, curated by Maggie Tchir, was on display at the Langham Gallery in Kaslo from July 22 to October 16, 2022. As small, regional arts organizations that serve distinct and discrete communities, opportunities to collaborate do not come up very often. It is gratifying to be able to play a part in recognizing and celebrating Tsuneko Kokubo’s artistic accomplishments and bring her work to a larger audience.