William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

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Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"The Prairie Snow Plow (Big Lonely Series)", 1977

Mixed media on masonite 7.3/4" x 36" (SOLD)

William Kurelek was a Canadian artist and writer.  He was born near Whitford, Alberta in 1927, the oldest of seven children in a Ukrainian immigrant family.  He grew up during the Great Depression on a grain farm in Alberta and then a dairy farm in Manitoba.  His work was influenced by his childhood on the prairies, his Ukrainian-Canadian roots, his struggles with mental illness, and his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

 

William Kurelek studied at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and at the Instituto Allende in Mexico, but was primarily self-taught from books. 

 

During his mid-twenties, he made his way to England and Europe for further study.  In 1952, while living in England, he was admitted to the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in London suffering from clinical depression and emotional problems.  There he was treated for schizophrenia.  He enrolled in the hospital's art therapy program, where he painted "The Maze", a dark depiction of his tortured youth.  (This 1953 work was used as the cover of the 1981 Van Halen rock album - Fair Warning). 

 

Originally Ukrainian Orthodox, and briefly a professed atheist, Kurelek converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1957. He painted a series of 160 works on the Passion of Christ, and a series of 20 depicting the Nativity as if Christ had been born in various Canadian settings: an igloo, a trapper's cabin, a boxcar, a motel. He maintained a cottage near Combermere, Ontario, where he got his inspiration for a book of paintings entitled "The Polish Canadians", and was a friend of the nearby Madonna House Apostolate.

 

In 1959, Kurelek returned to Toronto, where he wrote and illustrated a series of children's books, several of which have become modern classics.  In 1974, he illustrated a new edition of W. O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind.  He won the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award for A Prairie Boy's Winter in 1974 and A Prairie Boy's Summer in 1976. In 1976, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He visited Ukraine in 1970 and again in 1977, posthumously publishing To My Father's Village.

 

He died of cancer in Toronto in 1977.   By then he had produced over 2000 paintings.  His archives, and a substantial body of his work, including the Passion mentioned above, are held at Niagara Falls Art Gallery.

 

 

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"Prairie Children Building a Snow Fort", 1975

Oil on masonite 9.1/4" x 9.1/2" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"Eskimo Children Playing, Cape Dorset", 1968

Oil on masonite 14" x 28" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"Snowdrift Fun"

Oil on masonite 8.1/8" x 8" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"Fox and Geese", 1973

Oil on masonite 8.1/8" x 8" (SOLD)

Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, Canadian Art Dealer & Gallery in Montreal

William Kurelek, R.C.A., O.S.A. (1927-1977)

"Child with Red Sleigh"

Oil on masonite 17.3/4" x 12" (SOLD)