Artwork by William Kurelek,  Hand Garden Rake / Three to Get Married

William Kurelek
Hand Garden Rake / Three to Get Married

mixed media on board
titled and inscribed to the original owners “on their wedding” verso
7.75 x 13.5 ins ( 19.7 x 34.3 cms )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $11,800.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Private Collection
Woltjen/Udell Gallery, Edmonton
Loch Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
William Kurelek: The Messenger, Winnipeg Art Gallery, September 29 - December 31, 2011, also shown at the Hamilton Art Gallery, January 28 - April 29, 2012 and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, May 25 - September 3, 2012
Tobi Bruce, Mary Jo Hughes and Andrew Kear (eds.), William Kurelek: The Messenger, Altona, Manitoba, 2011, reproduced page 191 (plate 85), listed page 239
Originally a wedding gift from William Kurelek to a couple within the Ukrainian community, the painter personalized the artwork, not only with an inscription on the reverse, but also with the inclusion of the bride and groom’s initials on the handle of the gardening tool, within small diamonds, popping with Kurelek’s signature day-glow orange. The couple’s initials occupy the outside of the three shapes, the centre inscribed with a capital “G”, the space within the composition, and marriage, reserved for God. The three-pronged relationship of husband/wife/God was central to Kurelek’s catholic faith, making the brightly-coloured hand rake a perfect vehicle for the painter’s multi- faceted message, a function of many of the artist’s most compelling artwork.

Kurelek crafted a beautifully-coloured and layered frame to house “Hand Rake/Three to Get Married”, complementing a work which was a proud focus and reminder within the family’s home. Given its striking nature, also evidence of Kurelek’s mastery of the trompe-l’oeil technique, it is no surprise that the artwork was chosen to represent William Kurelek’s portrayal of implements in 2011/2012’s major travelling retrospective exhibition, William Kurelek: The Messenger.

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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 (