Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Innocence Lost: Kurelek-related Q&A out in today's National Post

I heart William Kurelek. And I'm very, very, very excited about the first survey in 30 years about him, which recently opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

It's accompanied by a terrific website, kurelek.ca -- please do take a look at that. (I'd love to see more exhibition websites like it from Canadian museums. Very comprehensive but also navigable and with many artwork reproductions.)

And lucky for me, the show is travelling to the Art Gallery of Hamilton in the coming year, so I'll also get to see it in person. (It will also be going to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria too.)

Andrew Kear, curator of historical Canadian at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, chatted with me generously on the phone about this new Kurelek show earlier this month. The condensed Q&A version is out in today's National Post print edition. An excerpt:

Q Many Canadians know Kurelek through his sweet, nostalgic books. But this show reveals his bloody, apocalyptic works. Why?

A One thing I think the exhibition does—and people may or may not appreciate this!—is that it removes the veil of innocence that covers a lot of the Prairie Boy’s Winter kind of work. I think you can’t return to those bucolic, nostalgic scenes with the same eye after you’ve seen paintings like This is the Nemesis. You start seeing an edge of underlying discomfort.

Q Where does that edge come from?

A Kurelek was concerned with nostalgia—he painted largely from memory. But his view of childhood was tempered by his experiences growing up. He was socially awkward to begin with. Then, he spoke Ukrainian for the first seven years of his life, which put a bulls-eye on his back when he went to a school in Manitoba where most of the students were English and Scottish. The Ku Klux Klan was active on the prairies through the 1920s, and his own father faced racism. So his view of childhood was not as sentimental as it may first appear.

A few Toronto-centric notes on Kurelek: he lived on Balsam Avenue in the Beaches neighbourhood for the latter part of his life and early in his career on Huron Street closer to U of T. While living on Huron, he created his Passion of St. Matthew series, and, because he was low on cash, sometimes traded paintings and odd jobs for his rent. Here's another snippet from the interview that relates to Toronto:

Q Many Toronto artists in the 1970s refused to visit Kurelek exhibitions because of his overt social conservatism. How did that affect him?

A Though Kurelek kept up a gregarious correspondence with various people, he was extremely socially set apart. It wasn’t just that his work was distinct from Robert Markle’s or Harold Town’s or Michael Snow’s. He didn’t out to the jazz clubs on Yonge Street or do the whole Yorkville scene. Partly that was because of his social conservatism, but also because he remained very awkward. He made it well known that he had a problem with Markle’s lascivious nude paintings. And while he won praise from some critics, like Robert Fulford, there were others, like Harry Malcolmson, he had famous controversies with. The interesting thing is that critics couldn’t not talk about him—even though they knew they were being preached at, and, of course, resented that.

For more, please check out today's print edition of the Post.

(Image: William Kurelek, Polish-Irish Fight, 1977. Courtesy the Art Gallery of Hamilton)

No comments: