Walter Sunahara

Region: Toronto Ontario
Generation: Nisei
Born 1935, Vancouver, British Columbia
Died 2002


Walter Sunahara was a painter. He was born in Vancouver and during WWII was interned as a child at Bay Farm, Slocan. Moving east after the war he earned a degree from the Ontario College of Art, Toronto in 1959. Walter then pursued graduate studies at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts specializing in Nihonga, a traditional expression of Japanese painting. After numerous trips to South-East Asia he came home to Canada to realize his vision of creating art, at the same time pursuing a career in public art education.

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 First Nation’s artists and craftspeople virtually hidden in the far north.

Of note, in the Founder’s Exhibit catalogue which exhibited Walter’s later work, curator Bryce Kanbara comments: ‘In this exhibition, he is represented by paintings produced during the last years of his life (1998-2000). In them, the troubled memories of parting with loved ones, which had 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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