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Artists as Writers: Kurelek, William

Artist Biography


(Kurelek with his paintings, from Art Canada Institute)

KURELEK, William (1927 - 1977)

Areas of Expertise

Painting, landscapes

Biography

Under the pen of William Kurelek, prairie farm scenes and landscapes came to life. By the time of his death in 1977, Kurelek had produced over 2,000 paintings. Kurelek was the son of Ukrainian immigrant farmers. He grew up during the Great Depression on a grain farm in Alberta, and then a dairy farm in Manitoba. While helping out on the farm, he enjoyed watching the sky, studying thunderstorms rolling in across the prairies or the changing patterns of the clouds. His hard-working father thought that his son was lazy, and was not pleased when he decided to pursue his studies in art. His father's rejection was to haunt him all of his life. Kurelek briefly studied art at school, but preferred to teach himself through books. While traveling in England, he was hospitalized for over a year and enrolled in the hospital's art therapy program. 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. If you examine his drawings, you will notice that they are full of realism with minute details of things like cots, clothes and even insects. Many of Kurelek's painting were produced to accompany books for children. For these he won several awards, including the New York Times's Best Illustrated Children's Book Award for A Prairie Boy's Winter and Lumberjack, and the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians Illustrators Award for A Prairie Boy's Summer.

Above biography from © 2012 Loch Gallery artist profile

Online Resources

William Kurelek: The Messenger: a website to accompanying fall 2011-2012 touring exhibition.

William Kurelek: Life & Work by Andrew Kear, free to read online from the Art Canada Institute.

Writing by Wiliam Kurelek

Please note that not all works are available through the OCADU library. To acquire one of these works through Interlibrary Loan or other means, please contact the library for assistance.

Wiliam Kurelek: Writing about his art

William Kurelek: A Retrospective. Edmonton: Edmonton Art Gallery, 1970. Available at OCADU Library.
Writings by Kurelek, including an Artist's Foreword and commentary for each painting in the collection.

O Toronto: Paintings and Notes. Toronto: New Press, 1973. Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek's paintings of Toronto accompanied by notes.

Kurelek's Canada. Toronto: Pagurian Press; Scarborough, Ont.: distributed by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.  Available at OCADU Library.

The Passion of Christ According to St. Matthew. Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls Art Gallery and Museum, 1975. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes a foreword by Kurelek along with his paintings.

The Last of the Arctic. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976.  Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek's paintings of Inuit people and his personal notes.

"Development of Ethnic Consciousness in a Canadian Painter." in Identities: The Impact of Ethnicity on Canadian Society, ed. Wsevolod Isajiw. Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977. Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek writes about about Urkranian ethnic heritage & art, religious convictions, and ethnic consciousness in addition to artistic development.

The Ukrainian Pioneer. Niagara Falls Art Gallery, Toronto: 1980. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings of Ukrainian pioneer life with comments and narrative by Kurelek.

Kurelek's Vision of Canada. by William Kurelek & Joan Murray. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1983. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes Kurelek's "Reminiscences" and commentary about his artwork.

They Sought A New World: The Story of European Immigration to North America. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1985. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and comments by William Kurelek ; additional text by Margaret S. Engelhart.

To My Father's Village: The Last Days and Drawings of William Kurelek. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1988. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes correspondence, drawings, writing & reflections by Kurelek.

Kurelek Country: The Art of William Kurelek. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1999. Available at OCADU Library.
This book includes excerpts of Kurelek's writings from his autobiography and correspondence.

Wiliam Kurelek: Autobiography

Someone With Me: The Autobiography of William Kurelek. Ithaca, New York: Centre for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University, 1973. Available at OCADU Library.

William Kurelek's illustrated children's literature is also based on his own experiences of growing up in Canada.

Wiliam Kurelek: Children's Literature

A Prairie Boy's Winter. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1973. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and story by William Kurelek.

Lumberjack. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1974. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and story by William Kurelek.

A Prairie Boy's Summer. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1975. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and story by William Kurelek.

A Northern Nativity: Christmas Dreams of a Prairie Boy. Toronto: Tundra Books, 1976. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and story by William Kurelek.

A Prairie Child's Year. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1978.
All the paintings in this book come from A Prarie Boy's Winter and A Prairie Boy's Summer 

Wiliam Kurelek: Interviews

The Maze: The Story of William Kurelek. [videorecording]  Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971, directed by Robert Young & David Grubin, produced by Stanley Plotnick, Irwin Young, Robert Young.
While the film documents Kurelek's works and interviews his family, Kurelek delivers opening monologue as well as on camera revelations.

William Kurelek's The Maze. Lanham, Md.: National Film Network, [2005?]. Based on 1971 documentary directed by Robert Young & David Grubin; 2005 film produced & re-imagined by Nick Young & Zack Young
Includes Kurelek's on-camera revelations as he speaks.

Wiliam Kurelek: Writings about cultural heritage and Canada

Kurelek's Canada. Toronto: Pagurian Press; Scarborough, Ont.: distributed by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975. Available at OCADU Library.

Jewish Life in Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1976.
Paintings & commentaries by Kurelek, with a historical essay by Abraham Arnold 

The Last of the Arctic. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976.  Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek's paintings of Inuit people and his personal notes.

"Development of Ethnic Consciousness in a Canadian Painter." in Identities: The Impact of Ethnicity on Canadian Society, ed. Wsevolod Isajiw. Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977. Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek writes about about Urkranian ethnic heritage & art, religious convictions, and ethnic consciousness in addition to artistic development.

They Sought A New World: The Story of European Immigration to North America. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1985. Available at OCADU Library.
Paintings and comments by William Kurelek ; additional text by Margaret S. Engelhart.

To My Father's Village: The Last Days and Drawings of William Kurelek. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1988. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes correspondence, drawings, writing & reflections by Kurelek.

Someone With Me: The Autobiography of William Kurelek. Ithaca, New York: Centre for Improvement of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University, 1973. Available at OCADU Library.

Wiliam Kurelek: Travel Writing

O Toronto: Paintings and Notes. Toronto: New Press, 1973. Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek's paintings of Toronto accompanied by notes.

Kurelek's Canada. Toronto: Pagurian Press; Scarborough, Ont.: distributed by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975. Available at OCADU Library.

The Last of the Arctic. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976.  Available at OCADU Library.
Kurelek's paintings of Inuit people and his personal notes.

Kurelek's Vision of Canada. by William Kurelek & Joan Murray. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1983. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes Kurelek's "Reminiscences" and commentary about his artwork.

To My Father's Village: The Last Days and Drawings of William Kurelek. Montreal: Tundra Books, 1988. Available at OCADU Library.
Includes correspondence, drawings, writing & reflections by Kurelek.