February 9, 2012

Hamilton. The final Sunday of January. Steel town was being covered in a woolly blanket of snow as hundreds gathered at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) for the long-awaited William Kurelek retrospective. Kurelek, the snow, Hamilton–this was Canadiana at its finest.

William Kurelek: The Messenger is the largest exhibition of Kurelek’s work; a collaboration between the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Hamilton’s public gallery. Kurelek was arguably Canada’s most famed and well-respected artist when he died in 1977. William Kurelek: The Messenger captures the broad scope of the artist’s vision and his unique approach to visual narrative. During his relatively short artistic career, Kurelek produced over 2000 paintings. Through those prolific years, he generated perhaps the most diverse range of narrative output than any other Canadian artist of his generation. Bucolic paintings of the Canadian landscape and nostalgic childhood remembrances mixed with apocalyptic visions and cautionary tales for the nuclear age. In all its diversity, Kurelek’s studio output never leaves viewers ambivalent. If there’s one thing a Kurelek canvas does is resonate in the viewer’s psyche. 

Kurelek Family in 2012

Kurelek’s work had a profound impact on me from an early age. I vividly recall witnessing Kurelek’s Vision of Canada at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in the early eighties. It was at that moment that the idea crystallized in my mind: “this is what I want to do—I want to be an artist.” Fast forward three decades and the feelings are just as powerful.

This must-see show continues in Hamilton until April 29.

My plasticene replica of a Kurelek family portrait, inspired by William Kurelek's "In the Autumn of Life" (1964)

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