This Is the Nemesis was part of a series of works by William Kurelek (1927–1977) entitled Glory to Man in the Highest. Billed as a “socio-religious satire,” the twenty paintings explore a scattershot of themes, from urban crime to scientific advancement, from economic disparity to the secularization of religious holidays.


William Kurelek, This Is the Nemesis, 1965
William Kurelek, This Is the Nemesis, 1965
Mixed media on Masonite, 114.8 x 115.6 cm, Art Gallery of Hamilton

This Is the Nemesis is a visual elaboration of the moralizing and apocalyptic tone of Roman Catholic theologian Edward Holloway, whose 1969 book Catholicism: A New Synthesis includes chapter titles such as “Whom do you say Man is?” and “Nemesis.” The scene imagines the fictional destruction of Hamilton, Ontario, by a nuclear bomb. Atomic conflagration dominates the painting, dragging the viewer headlong into a fully enacted orgy of death. Another cloud of cataclysmic energy billowing on the distant horizon announces Toronto’s shared fate. The painting’s frame is a collage of the television schedule published in the Globe and Mail.


The series shocked and polarized critics when it was first exhibited at Isaacs Gallery in Toronto in 1966. But while religious vehemence would have disqualified a lesser artist from serious consideration by the largely secular art world, in this case it confirmed Kurelek’s sincerity and creative singularity. People could disagree with him, but they remained captivated by his painting.


This Spotlight is excerpted from William Kurelek: Life & Work by Andrew Kear.

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