Artwork by William Kurelek,  Geese Flying South, Coniston, Ontario

William Kurelek
Geese Flying South, Coniston, Ontario

mixed media on board
signed with monogram and dated 1966 lower right
12.5 x 24.25 ins ( 31.8 x 61.6 cms )

Sold for $23,000.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
Private Collection
Patricia Morley, “Kurelek’s Sudbury Diaries,” “Literature and the Visual Arts Special Issue of Canadian Literature,” Issue 113-114, Summer/ Autumn 1987, pages 264-65
The town of Coniston is located about ten kilometers from Sudbury. Patricia Morley explains that the Northern Ontario landscape was dear to William Kurelek as it connected with his religious faith. The terrain reminded him “of the Judean wilderness where Christ fasted for forty days.” Writing to his wife Jean during his second visit to the area in 1966, Kurelek conveyed his understanding that he could not make a great deal of his work “openly religious as I would like because then they wouldn’t be saleable.”

However, Kurelek wrote further that he considered including subtle objects or notations within his compositions which would not immediately draw attention. “I think I’ll try slipping in religious symbols into them so that a prospective buyer is not bothered by them.” True to his word, Kurelek painted “Geese Flying South, Coniston, Ontario” during this visit and the scene features the inclusion of a tiny crown of thorns in the lower right corner, blending within the sculpted rocky foreground upon initial examination.

During the trip, Kurelek forgot to bring along two of his usual tools of creation, the painter relating the error and resulting challenges: “I had quite a bit of trouble rendering fog because I forgot my atomizer. Another thing I forgot to bring is sandpaper for sharpening my razor blades for scratching our highlights and rendering grassy areas... [The terrain] has many round boulders of various tints that make them look somewhat like jelly bean candies. I took artists licence to heighten the colours a bit...If I wanted to be fanatically precise I could spend a whole day working on a piece of rock no bigger than I could hold in my hand.”

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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