When I started viewing the paintings, I was slightly non-plussed because it seemed provincial. These works were from some of modern arts least figurative moments (1950-1970): abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalism etc. and his paintings were narrative in the extreme . . . almost illustrated. I also have a hard time engaging with paintings that are allegorical ie. story-telling. I much prefer paintings that are more like symphonies than like a book.
But there was something in the paintings that made me want to keep going. There were sections in the early paintings that reminded me of James Joyce's work (who was an influence of Kurelec's): moments where you are suddenly and completely in the artist's world. Fragments of prairie nostalgia mixed in with visceral childhood memories of shame were the hooks that pulled you in. Scenes of "king of the mountain" (battle royales with sticks and snowballs for dominance of snowhills). Painfully personal scenes of bullying and public humiliation. Deep and mysterious night skies in the deep of winter. Vast farmlands with tiny knolls of trees waaaaay off in the distance.
Because I'm a painter, when I look at a painting, I'm also looking at how it was made, and not just the image that's there on the surface. Kurelec's paintings are beautifully painted, composed, and constructed. He worked in a framing shop and therefore had access to interesting materials and techniques of presenting a painting. His compositions have references to some formalist ideas in avant guard painting at the time ie. dividing the canvas into coloured zoned. His compositions convey very accurately the sense of frenzied activity at weddings or stock exchange; figures huddled here and there moving to and fro. I have some issues with the mass of some of his figures, but the spaces he creates and so deep. You feel like you could fall into one of his pictures.
So good job Art Gallery of Greater Victoria! That's two shows in 6 months that I've really enjoyed :)
Glimmering Tapers ’round the Day’s Dead Sanctities, William Kurelek, 1970
|The Devil's Wedding, William Kurelek, 1967|