Artwork by William Kurelek,  I Hate Water (A Cat’s Loss of Dignity)

William Kurelek
I Hate Water (A Cat’s Loss of Dignity)

mixed media on board
signed with monogram lower right; titled on the frame and on the reverse
7.75 x 11.5 ins ( 19.7 x 29.2 cms )

Sold for $25,300.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Provenance:
Private Collection
Literature:
William Kurelek, Someone With Me, Cornell University, Ithaca, 1973, pages 17-19
From his earliest years of life on the family farm, William Kurelek experienced a constant relationship with the animals which surrounded him, the painter recalling his early “fiendish attraction to cats” which was documented in a photograph of the painter as a baby “going after a kitten whose tail I intended to pull.”

Kurelek’s talent to hold up an instant of levity within perceived disaster is masterfully on display in “I Hate Water (A Cat’s Loss of Dignity)”, the drenched creature’s expression of disgust and exasperation meeting the gaze of the viewer. The tabby clings to a plank, the board possibly having broken free from the cat’s weight on the dock a moment before. In the seconds which follow the scene, we can expect a quick but unfashionable escape to the flowered bank, Kurelek managing to portray the perfect point in time to spark engagement and entertainment, the subject certainly not sharing in the merriment.

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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