Glimmering Tapers ’round the Day’s Dead Sanctities 1970
This work presents the artist’s recollection of the northern lights during harvest season in Alberta. “In those Fall days,” Kurelek wrote, “when threshing would go on after dark there might come a year or two in which the Northern Lights would put on an awesome and entertaining show.” Although blue, sunlit sky features prominently in many of Kurelek’s paintings of the prairie landscape, Glimmering brings the dark sublimity of the vast night sky into rare focus. The representation of landscape at night creates a particularly spiritual setting for Kurelek to reflect on the intersection of immanent mortal existence and divine transcendence.
First exhibited in November 1970 at Isaacs Gallery in Toronto, this work is one of several night scenes, such as Thy Young Skyey Blossoms, 1970, and All Things Betray Thee Who Betrayest Me, 1970, in the Nature, Poor Stepdame series. Kurelek’s deep love for the natural world developed during his childhood. His affection for the environment was subsequently informed and shaped through the Romantic nature poetry of William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and other writers he studied at the University of Manitoba.
Although Kurelek tended to focus his eye on the actions of particular beings—whether farmers and immigrants, biblical figures, family members or, indeed, the artist himself—the natural world was always more than a neutral backdrop. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1957, the natural world became the main stage upon which Kurelek’s human characters encountered intimations of the divine.
All the works in the Nature, Poor Stepdame series, and the series itself, were given titles from the 1893 poem “The Hound of Heaven” by Victorian poet Francis Thompson. Thompson, like Kurelek, was a mature convert to Roman Catholicism. His poem seeks to distinguish God from nature through the latter’s ambivalence toward humanity.