Thursday, June 7, 2012

william kurelek

I went to AGGV and saw the William Kurelec exhibition. I was mucho skeptical because I heard comparisons of his work to Emily Carr's and that made me shudder a little. But I decided to give this re-known prairie painter a go, even if only to wax philosophical about how vast the prairies seem.
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


Protagitron said...

I'm sure you've already read this, but the Walrus had a pretty good profile on Kurelek recently. It was interesting - I can't say I care for his more Catholic works, since I'm so at odds with them politically, but it definitely complicated my interpretation of him. Although I should give him more of a pass out of fellow Ukie pride.

Also, thoughts?

Pete Kohut said...

Yeah, I'm not much for the religious / you're all going to hell stuff either lol.
Haha, the interlocked book idea is a neat idea . . . but I'm not sure how effective it is. Sure, it gets the idea across . . . but I'm sure there are subtler, more cost effective ways of evoking the concept. I'm intrigued that perhaps this may set the bar for more wacky book projects . . . I'm really itching to use a hologram on a cover haha. Thanks for your comment :)