William Kurelek was born of Ukrainian parents near in 1927 in Whitford, Alberta, and as a child, he moved to Manitoba, where memories of the harsh and happy experiences of growing up on a farm would later provide subject mater for his art. In 1949, the year he graduated from the University of Manitoba, the family moved to Ontario, and Kurelek enrolled at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Although he was attracted to the work of teachers such as Carl Shaefer, whose rural theme impressed him, Kurelek stayed only for one year, then travelled to Mexico to see the murals of such artists as Diego Rivera, whose social conscience and devotion to the culture and dignity of ordinary people touched him profoundly. Kurelek returned in Toronto in 1959 and worked as a framer at the Isaacs Gallery. Kurelek held his first exhibition in 1960.
He won a popularity as a writer and an illustrator of children’s books, which drew on his youthful experiences on the farm. He died in Toronto in 1977.
One of his series of works was shown in 1962 under the theme of memories of farm and bush life. He painted Ukrainian people in Canada. He chronicled the departure to the old country and the arrival in the new, through the hardships of travel and clearing the land to the final bounty of the autumn harvest. Art historian Charles Hill has noted that for Kurelek, these paintings were “ a means of reclaiming an identity and of bounding with a community from which he had been alienated”.
Also, Kurelek was preoccupied with humanity’s spiritual frailty in the face of atomic catastrophe, a theme that haunted his later painting.
Source: Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly, Canada, 2000