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William Kurelek Life & Work by Andrew Kear

William Kurelek’s complex portrait emerges from the numerous exhibition catalogues and reviews, academic writing, and films about the artist. These secondary materials are enriched by Kurelek’s well-known autobiography, unpublished and archived letters, diaries, lecture notes, and exhibition commentary. This selection is an overview of resources that have contributed to the current understanding of the artist, his art, and legacy.


Key Exhibitions


William Kurelek posing before his paintings Lest We Repent..., 1964 (top left), and This Is the Nemesis, 1965 (bottom left). The artist created both works for the series Glory to Man in the Highest, exhibited at the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto, March 2–21, 1966.William Kurelek combines Eastern European textile trimmings to craft the mock-up exhibition poster for The Burning Barn: 16 Paintings by William Kurelek, held at Hart House Art Gallery, University of Toronto, March 11–29, 1969.


1956
–58

May–August, (three consecutive) Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, U.K.

1960

March 26–April 7, William Kurelek: Exhibition of Paintings, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1963

April 4–21, William Kurelek / Michael Snow, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

May 14–29, William Kurelek: Experiments in Didactic Art, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

August 14–September 22, Religious Art, Art Gallery of Toronto. Catalogue.

September–October, Biennale Exhibition of Canadian Painting 1963, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Kurelek participated in subsequent Biennale exhibitions at the NGC in 1965 and 1968.

1964

September 18–October 5, William Kurelek: An Immigrant Farms in Canada, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto. Travelled to Edmonton Art Gallery.

1966

March 2–21, William Kurelek: Glory to Man in the Highest, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

March 31–April 20, William Kurelek, Winnipeg Art Gallery.

1967

July 4–22, Kurelek: Memories of a Manitoba Childhood, La Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal.

1968

January 10–29, The Ukrainian Pioneer Woman in Canada, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1969

March 11–29, The Burning Barn: 16 Paintings by William Kurelek, Hart House Art Gallery, University of Toronto.

1970

September 20–October 20, William Kurelek: A Retrospective, Edmonton Art Gallery. Catalogue.

November 11–30, Nature, Poor Stepdame: A Series of 16 Paintings by William Kurelek, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1971

October 14–November 17, William Kurelek, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

1972

March 22–April 23, William Kurelek: Canadian Paintings, Commonwealth Art Gallery, Commonwealth Institute, London, U.K.

October 10–30, William Kurelek: The Toronto Series, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1973

September 29–October 12, William Kurelek: A Prairie Boy’s Winter, Marlborough-Godard Gallery, Montreal. Travelled to Isaacs Gallery, Toronto; Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon; Rodman Hall Arts Centre, St. Catharines, Ontario.

1974

January 6–30, William Kurelek: A Retrospective Exhibition, Art Gallery of Windsor. Catalogue.

November 7–27, William Kurelek: The Happy Canadian, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1975

September 22–December 28, William Kurelek: A Prairie Boy’s Summer, Art Gallery of Windsor. Exhibition travelled to forty venues, concluding March 1982.

1976

February 13–March 21, Changing Visions: The Canadian Landscape, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and Edmonton Art Gallery. Travelled to eight venues, concluding April 1977.

November 13–December 3, William Kurelek: The Irish in Canada, Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

1977

May 28–June 18, William Kurelek: Big Lonely, Marlborough-Godard Gallery, Montreal.

1978

January 11–February 8, William Kurelek: Painter, Illustrator, Author, Canada House Gallery, London, U.K.

February 23–April 2, William Kurelek: The Polish Canadians, Art Gallery of Hamilton.

1980

October 10–November 23, Kurelek, Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre, Oseredok. Catalogue.

1982

June 4–August 14, Kurelek’s Vision of Canada, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. Travelled to fourteen venues, concluding December 1984. Catalogue.

1990

July 5–September 21, William Kurelek: The English Years, 1952–59, Canada House Cultural Centre, London, U.K. Catalogue.

1992

September 4–January10, William Kurelek (1927–1977), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

2011

September 20–December 31, William Kurelek: The Messenger, Winnipeg Art Gallery. Travelled to co-organizer venues Art Gallery of Hamilton and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, concluding September 2012. Catalogue.



Selected Archives

Avrom Isaacs Fonds, Clara Thomas Archives, York University, Toronto.

William Kurelek Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.



Selected Writings by the Artist

“The Development of Ethnic Consciousness in a Canadian Painter.” In Identities: The Impact of Ethnicity on Canadian Society, edited by Wsevolod Isajiw, 46–56. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1977.


Someone With Me: The Autobiography of William Kurelek. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Center for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, 1973. Second Edition: Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1980.



Selected Illustrated Writings by the Artist

Cover of William Kurelek’s To My Father’s Village (1988).

A Prairie Boy’s Winter. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1973.


O Toronto. Don Mills, Ontario: General Publishing, 1973.


Kurelek’s Canada. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.


Lumberjack. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1974.


A Prairie Boy’s Summer. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1975.


Fields. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1976.


Jewish Life in Canada. With Abraham Arnold. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1976.


The Last of the Arctic. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976.


A Northern Nativity. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1976.


The Ukrainian Pioneer. Niagara Falls, Ontario: Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Museum, 1980.


To My Father’s Village: The Last Days and Drawings of William Kurelek. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1988.



Selected Books Illustrated by the Artist


The Passion of Christ According to St. Matthew. Niagara Falls, Ontario: Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Museum, 1975.


W.O. Mitchell. Who Has Seen the Wind. Toronto: Macmillan, 1976.



Selected Critical Writing

William Kurelek, The Passion of Christ (Introduction Panel), 1960–63, mixed media, 54.3 x 50.3 cm, Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Museum.

Arnold, Abraham. “William Kurelek, Multicultural Artist,” The Beaver (December/January 1986–87): 51–56.


Bruce, Tobi, Mary Jo Hughes, Andrew Kear, with Brian Dedora, Avrom Isaacs, and Brian Smylski. William Kurelek: The Messenger. Winnipeg, Hamilton, Victoria: Winnipeg Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2011.


Cook, Ramsay. “William Kurelek: A Prairie Boy’s Visions,” William Kurelek Memorial Lectures, 1978. Reprinted from the Journal of Ukrainian Studies 5 (1980): 33–48.


Dedora, Brian. With WK in the Workshop: A Memoir of William Kurelek. Stratford, Ontario: Aya / The Mercury Press, 1989.


Ewanchuk, Michael. William Kurelek: The Suffering Genius. Steinbach, MB: Derksen / Michael Ewanchuk, 1996.


Friesen, Isle E. Earth, Hell and Heaven in the Art of William Kurelek. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic, 1997.


Kilbourn, Elizabeth. “William Kurelek,” Canadian Art 19, no. 2 (March/April 1962): 136–37.


Morley, Patricia. Kurelek: A Biography. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1986.


Murray, Joan. Kurelek’s Vision of Canada. Oshawa, Ontario: The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1982.


O’Brien, Michael. William Kurelek: Painter and Prophet. Ottawa: Justin, 2013.



Selected Audio and Video


David Grubin and Robert M. Young with William Kurelek and his children during the making of the documentary The Maze, 1969 (2011).


Pettigrew, William, dir. William Kurelek. National Film Board of Canada, 1967. Colour, 10 min.


Young, Robert M., and David Grubin, dirs. The Maze: The Story of William Kurelek. National Film Network, 1969. Colour, 30 min. (Expanded high-definition version reissued in 2011 as William Kurelek’s The Maze by Nick Young and Zack Young, 60 min.)