"Sunday Dinner Call in the Bush"
William Kurelek , "Sunday Dinner Call in the Bush," 1961, mixed media on panel, 17" x 48" Image Courtesy Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg
WILLIAM KURELEK (1927-1977)
For his highly detailed folk art depicting life on the Canadian prairie during the first half of the 20th century, William Kurelek could be compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder, another chronicler of the beauty and ordinariness of life on western homesteads. But Kurelek, whose meticulous depictions are best known through his books A Prairie Boy's Summer and A Prairie Boy's Winter, went much deeper than that.
Born on a farm to Ukrainian-Canadian parents north of Edmonton in 1927, Kurelek's childhood and school years were marked by the harshness of the Depression. After his parents lost their farm, they moved to Manitoba where Kurelek attended school, eventually graduating from the University of Manitoba, and taking classes at the Ontario College of Art and the Instituto Allende in Mexico.
In the early 1950s, Kurelek began to deal with the onset of mental illness, which got worse during a trip to England. He was admitted to Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in London, where he created one of the most important works of his career. "The Maze" is a depiction of what the artist saw in his own head, with nods to medieval woodcuts and the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. Told in panels inside the cutaway of his own skull, it is a remarkable manifestation of the horror of depression, melancholy and regret.
For the rest of his life, Kurelek would pitch a battle against illness with the defenses of art, intense autobiography, and the interest of esteemed doctors and psychiatrists. Alongside his drawings of hearty farm work and hockey games on homemade rinks, he drew images of the prairie that rival Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" in their depiction of the desolation of landscape and the solitariness of life.
After returning to Canada in the late '50s, having converted to Catholicism, he divided his time between hundreds of paintings and drawings of biblical images, and the prairie scenes and drawings of Ukrainian heritage that would bring him wider acclaim. Collecting the work into a series of popular books, his drawings would become powerful symbols of how Canadians saw themselves, and their history on the land.
Among more than a dozen books, many of them truly heartwarming and aimed at children, the artist's work was collected in Kurelek Country, published in 1975 by Houghton Mifflin and featuring a preface by his dealer, Av Isaacs. This painting, "Sunday Dinner Call in the Bush" (1961) is typical of the Kurelek's folk-art style, and was originally sold by Isaacs Gallery in Toronto in the early 1970s. Circulating through private collections since its first sale, the painting has recently been acquired by Mayberry Fine Art in Winnipeg.