Artwork by William Kurelek,  Our Lady of St. Demetrius

William Kurelek
Our Lady of St. Demetrius

giclee print on arches paper
initialed by Jean Kurelek and numbered 4/500 in the lower left margin
18.75 x 14 ins ( 47.6 x 35.6 cms ) ( sight )

Auction Estimate: $300.00$200.00 - $300.00

Price Realized $510.00
Sale date: December 15th 2020

Private Collection, Ontario
A label on the reverse of the artwork with explanatory text from William Kurelek reads:

“Our Lady is shown presenting Christ while still in her womb, offering Him to us as his Saviour, just as the angel had announced to her, ‘He shall be the most High and will save His people.’ The three stars on her shoulders and forehead symbolize, as in all icons, Mary’s being a virgin before, during and after Christ’s birth. Her eyes are lowered thereby, directing our attention to her child. Her hands direct our gaze to the two Churches, together with their respective crosses, representing Christianity in Eastern and Western Ukraine.

The infant Jesus is preaching repentance and the return of God the Father for He points to the man and woman on their knees beating their breasts at the pig trough, just as the Prodigal Son, who sought the pleasures of the world, only to be disappointed, returned to his father. Between them is a parallel scene. It is that of St. John the Baptist warning of the wrath to come is we don’t cease crucifying Christ with our material pursuits. our spiritual bareness is represented by the rocky landscape. The Nemesis of mere materialism in our day is that of nuclear warfare.

Old Kosmos, the centuries old symbol of the world offering worldly riches but actually weary of them and hoping for a saviour, is shown in a modern bunker. This is the state of the world today. We concentrate on immediate pleasures because we sense the impending destruction and loss of them. Ukrainians have fallen victim to the way of the world just as much as other North Americans and need to return to a life in Christ. The words of life are offered in the Gospels presented to us by the four evangelists in the traditional guise of an eagle, lion and bull.

behind Our Lady we have a glimpse of the souls of the damned drowning in Hell. But they are not as obvious as the souls of the saved at the top, in heaven. This is because the Church today stresses the happy rather than the unhappy ending. The souls of the saved are depicted in ecstasy in the Beatific Vision. god the Father is pictured turned from us because it is impossible to depict the beauty of His face. Also, as scripture says, ‘A veil, a veil between You and me dear God, lest I unto madness see!’ In our fallen condition here on earth we simply aren’t equipped to take such a large dose of happiness all at once.

On the back of God’s cloak it the isosceles triangle, a symbol of the Blessed Trinity. Inside it is the heart, a symbol of love. It radiates graces all the time, but is a vigilant, all-seeing, non-sentimental love which is represented by the eye in the middle of the heart. Green is the colour of hope so the bar which separates heaven from earth and hell is in that colour. Passing through this divide is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and it radiates itself in the form of tongues of fire to all who would receive it. Our Lady was most receptive to the Holy Spirit of all mankind and she now is mediatrix of that Spirit. Finally, in the upper two compartments, Art and Nature are represented giving glory to God via the Psalms.”

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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 (