Artwork by William Kurelek,  Stop Thief!

William Kurelek
Stop Thief!

mixed media on board
signed with monogram and dated 1974 lower right; titled on the reverse
7.25 x 8.75 ins ( 18.4 x 22.2 cms )

Sold for $34,500.00
Sale date: May 31st 2016

Issacs Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, U.S.A.
William Kurelek, “Someone with Me: The Autobiography of William Kurelek”, Cornell University, Ithaca,1973, pages 68-70
Swimming was identified by William Kurelek as the only water sport experienced by prairie boys. The artist recalled that he and his brother John did not see “a large body of water until we were in our middle teens! That was when father bought our first car.” Prior to that, the joy of swimming was found at Poplar Spring, described by the painter as “a miniature mecca,” a long hike or short bike ride from the Kurelek family farm. William reminisced of the creation and detailed tactile experience of this escape from the responsibilities of life on the farm, recalling that “older boys dug out and widened a portion of the bog ditch and built a sod dam and a rough diving platform. The bottom was clammy in the spring as mud or clay squished up between your toes. After the sun had dried you off you'd have a fine white coating of clay on you that you could brush off.”

Kurelek's “Stop Thief!” presents a further element of chaos to a scene already rich with the potential of energy and activity. The exuberant merriment of the children in the background is interrupted as a dog glides across the bank and grabs the resting shoe of one of the swimmers. The child is left only to shout and reach helplessly to the sky as the four-legged crook begins to exit from the perspective of the viewer (and the boy). Such an occurrence would likely have been met with equal parts entertainment and stress for Kurelek, knowing his long trip back to the farm would have been one of discomfort wearing one shoe, not to mention the potential reaction of his parents at the sudden need for a replacement.

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William Kurelek
(1927 - 1977) RCA

Kurelek was the son of Ukrainian immigrant farmers. He grew up during the Great Depression on a grain farm in Alberta and then a dairy farm in Manitoba. His hard-working father thought that his son was lazy and was not pleased when he decided to pursue his studies in art. His father's rejection was to haunt him all of his life. Kurelek studied art at the University of Manitoba where he graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in 1949. He worked in lumber camps to raise money for his art studies and did other odd jobs. He then studied six months at the Ontario College of Art but found he needed more freedom to develop at his own pace and interest, preferring to teach himself through books.

He sailed for England in 1952 where he found a happier environment, a more tolerant acceptance for what he wanted to paint. He also apprenticed himself to a picture framer, Frederick Pollock, from whom he learned this exacting craft. Stephen Franklin in ’Weekend Magazine’ described his years in England as follows, “In seven years Kurelek found both happiness and sadness in London. His painstaking fool-the-eye paintings of pound notes and other objects found their way into three Royal Academy summer shows, but he was increasingly bothered by eye trouble for which there was no physical cause. He plumbed the depth of emotional despair, contemplated suicide, and wound up in hospital for more than a year. It was here that he began his conversion – from boyhood membership in the Orthodox Church and subsequent atheism – to Catholicism which has deeply affected his life since.”

It was there that he drew many self-portraits and scenes of farm life from his youth. He also developed his unique style of outlining the drawing with a ballpoint pen, using coloured pencils for texture and adding details in pen. Careful examination of his drawings reveals images full of realism with minute details of things like cots, clothes and even insects. Under the pen of William Kurelek, prairie farm scenes and landscapes came to life.

He returned to Toronto in 1959, and visited Avrom Isaacs, looking for a job as picture framer. It was his paintings which caught the eye if Isaacs, who became his art dealer. In 1960, Kurelek held his first one man show at the Isaacs Gallery. By the time of his death in 1977, Kurelek had produced over 2000 paintings. Many of Kurelek's painting were produced to accompany books for children. For these he won several awards including the New York Times' Best Illustrated Children's Book Award for A Prairie Boy's Winter and Lumberjack, and the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians Illustrators Award for A Prairie Boy's Summer.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume II”, compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1979