Artwork by William Kurelek,  Hauling Hay

William Kurelek
Hauling Hay

mixed media on board
signed with monogram and dated 1967 lower right
10.5 x 20 ins ( 26.7 x 50.8 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $94,400.00
Sale date: May 29th 2018

Acquired directly from the artist
By decent to the present Private Collection
Janice Tywhitt, “William Kurelek: The Power of Obsession,” Saturday Night, May 26, 1962, pages 30-31
Avrom Isaacs and William Kurelek, William Kurelek: A Retrospective, The Edmonton Art Gallery, 1970, unpaginated
Sinclair Ross, As for Me and My House, Toronto, 1972, page 59
Eli Mandel, Another Time, Toronto, 1972, pages 50-52
William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy’s Winter, Montreal, 1973, unpaginated
William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy’s Summer, Toronto, 1975, unpaginated
William Kurelek, Kurelek’s Canada, Toronto, 1978, pages 91 and 101-103
William Kurelek and Joan Murray, Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, Edmonton, 1983, pages 75-76
Patricia Morley, Kurelek: A Biography, Toronto, 1986, pages 156-57, 190, and 211-13
Avrom Isaacs and Ramsay Cook, Kurelek Country: The Art of William Kurelek, Toronto, 1999, pages 9-11
Growing up on dairy and wheat farms in Manitoba and Alberta, respectively, William Kurelek learned to work the land with his family. The experience of farming in Depression-era Canada fundamentally shaped Kurelek and his feelings towards the vast prairie landscape. A mixture of pure awe and sheer terror were imbued in the artist and transferred onto his coveted prairie landscape artworks. For the artist, the absolute importance of expressing the expanse of the flattened prairies was integral to his work. He likened the prairie fields as the echo to the vast oceans at the nation’s coasts, both with high far-reaching horizon lines only visible when the eye’s perspective can reach no further. The sky and the land meet in a near symmetrical geometry of blue and ochre, typified by sharp perspective lines delineating fence lines and field parameters. A chronicler of Ukrainian-Canadian pioneer life in Canada, William Kurelek was a master of Canadian landscape art, narrating the story of immigrant contributions to the development of a nation.

“Hauling Hay” showcases the critical seasonal ritual of threshing wheat for sale. For Alberta farmers, wheat was not only a key resource to contribute to Canada’s economy, but was integral to the sustainability and livelihoods of families and communities throughout the vast rural prairie landscape. For the Kurelek family, wheat farming was a long-standing tradition. When the family patriarch, Dmytro, had to forego this custom in the wake of the Great Depression, as well as poor weather which contributed to crop failures, the family was forced to move from Alberta to Manitoba to seek more prosperous opportunities in dairy farming. Though necessary for the livelihood of the family, Dmytro was resentful of the change and always sought to continue wheat farming in any capacity while the rest of the family assisted and tended to the dairy farming duties. For William, assisting his father was a key memory continuingly re-examined in both his writings and artworks.

The striking composition presents a charming but fleeting autumn landscape, signaling the urgency to harvest grains before the long prairie winter befalls. The organically formed rows of black crows in the distance signal this changing of seasons as the last days of fall slide toward the approaching cold days of winter. The importance of manual labour and man’s existence in the landscape is integral to the artist, more than machinery and contemporary technologies. The central dramatic perspective lines, receding to a high horizon line, built through rows of stooks, signal the tedious manual labour needed to create these mounds in preparation of collection and eventual threshing. In the 1975 book “A Prairie Boy’s Summer”, Kurelek recalls:

“If the grain was too wet to cut, the family could still stook for a while. William’s mother was a good stoker and taught him how to do it properly. You picked up two sheaves, held them either by the binder twine or under your arm and then brought them down firmly to the ground with their tops together, leaning against each other. Another two pairs of sheaves brought down in the same way on either side of the first two, completed the stook. A stook was shaped like a teepee so the rain would run off it, and it had a whole in the middle so the wind could dry it inside.”

In 1965, nearing Canada’s centennial, William Kurelek was approached by the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada (UWAC), which requested the artist to create representations which would depict the role of Ukrainian pioneer women in the development of Western Canada. Grateful for the opportunity, Kurelek produced twenty artworks for the committee’s selection, which were shown in 1967 by the UWAC and then at the Isaacs Gallery in early 1968. The project was a great success and the final works were given to the association’s museum in Saskatoon. For Kurelek, the production of these prairie landscapes was not merely a self-serving practice for the “tortured artist” trope. Rather, the painter sought to use his abilities to give back to his community in an expression of gratitude and kindness for the members who had supported and championed him in his development. This painting was gifted by William Kurelek to a member of the UWAC following the successful project.

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William Kurelek
(1927 - 1977) RCA

Born on a farm near Willingdon, Alberta in 1927, William Kurelek created paintings that explored the reality of farm life during the Depression, with a focus on Ukrainian experiences in Canada. Kurelek’s mother’s family settled in Canada during one of the first waves of Ukrainian immigration in 1899 before the painter’s father arrived in Alberta from Western Ukraine during the second major wave to the province in 1923. In 1934, Kurelek’s family moved to Manitoba, near Winnipeg, due to falling grain prices and a fire that destroyed their home. Upon moving to Manitoba, Kurelek began attending school at the Victoria Public School.

Influenced by the apprehension surrounding the Depression, World War I, and the instability of farming, Kurelek focused on his studies. However, his father did not approve. While Kurelek’s father valued physical labor on the farm, Kurelek concentrated on school and drawing, which caused tension in his household. As a child, Kurelek covered his room in drawings from literature, dreams, and hallucinations. At school, Kurelek’s classmates were enthralled by his stories and drawings.

In 1943, Kurelek and his brother attended Isaac Newton High School in Winnipeg. While in Winnipeg, he frequented Ukrainian cultural classes offered by St. Mary the Protectress. In 1946, Kurelek enrolled in the University of Manitoba studying Latin, English, and history. While in university, Kurelek’s mental health spiraled, which he later self-identified as depersonalization.

After university, in 1948, Kurelek’s family relocated to a farm near Hamilton, Ontario. The next fall, in 1949, Kurelek began studying at the Ontario College of Art working towards a career in commercial advertising. While in school he was uninterested in the competitiveness and emphasis on earning high grades. So, he decided to study with David Alfaro Siqueiros in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. During his hitchhike to Mexico, Kurelek experienced his first mystical experience while sleeping in the Arizona desert. In this vision, a robed figure asked him to look after his sheep. Upon his arrival to Mexico, Kurelek learned that Siqueiros had departed, and the program was under new direction by Sterling Dickinson. Dickinson’s program was more informal and allowed Kurelek to become aware of social issues and develop his belief system.

Kurelek returned to Canada in 1951 and traveled to England in 1952 where he was admitted into a psychiatric treatment center at London’s Maudsley Hospital. The doctors noted the severity of his illness as well as his artistic talent. After his discharge, Kurelek traveled throughout Europe to view works by Northern Renaissance painters, such as Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosh. In 1953, Kurelek was readmitted into Maudsley, then transferred to Netherne Hospital in Surrey, which had a cutting-edge therapy program. He continued to paint during this time. In early 1955, Kurelek was discharged and returned to London where he worked at an art framing studio, apprenticing with Frederick Pollock.

“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.”

Kurelek permanently returned to Canada in 1959. Later that year he met Avrom Isaacs, of Isaacs Gallery, who invited him to work in his gallery’s frame shop and hosted his first solo exhibition in 1960. In 1962, Kurelek married Jean Andrews and they relocated to the Beaches area in Toronto. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, he began painting in a “fire and brimstone” style and constructed a fallout shelter in his basement, which eventually became his studio. He visited Ukraine in 1970 and 1977 and during this period he took a multicultural approach to his art. After his second trip to Ukraine he was admitted to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and soon passed away from cancer.

Literature Sources:
Andrew Kear, “William Kurelek: Life and Work”, Art Canada Institute, Toronto, 2017 (