Artwork by William Kurelek,  Tale of a Dog

William Kurelek
Tale of a Dog

mixed media on board
signed with monogram and dated 1975 lower right; titled and dated on the reverse
13.25 x 1.25 ins ( 33.7 x 3.2 cms )

Auction Estimate: $9,000.00$7,000.00 - $9,000.00

Price Realized $10,620.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

A gift of the artist to the present owner, Brian Dedora, Toronto
Brian Dedora, With WK in the Workshop: A Memoir of William Kurelek, Toronto, 1989, reproduced page 39
Brian Dedora, author of “White Light”, “He Moved”, and What a City Was”, is a renowned writer and master framer who got his start at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto. During his years with Isaacs, Brian worked closely with William Kurelek (the painter also getting his start at the celebrated Toronto gallery). A friendship grew between the two artists, Dedora the writer and Kurelek the painter.

Dedora’s 1989 book With WK in the Workshop: A Memoir of William Kurelek recounts his memories of the celebrated painter, within which he provides the story behind this charming painting, a gift from Kurelek:

“On my bench one morning was a painting one inch wide and thirteen inches tall, a gift from Bill. It was entitled ‘Tale of a Dog.’ The painting depicts a stand of trees in the background, a post in the middle ground, and in the foreground, walking off to the left, the hindquarters of a dog with a large tail. It is a snow scene. The painting has three levels of meaning and humour: the TAIL of the dog – we actually see it; the TALE of the dog as he wanders from the stand of trees, his footprints in the snow, to the post in the middle ground where the dog has done its duty; there’s also the reason the painting is one inch wide and thirteen inches tall – the painting itself is the tale of a dog job, a dog job being any job that didn’t go well. In this case, Bill had mis-measured the painting, made a frame only to find the painting one inch too large. Practical as ever, he sawed the one inch off.”

This artwork has remained in the collection of Brian Dedora until this offering and we extend our thanks to Brian for providing details related to this artwork.

Link: Brian Dedora presents “Tale of a Dog”:

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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 (