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Lot # 026
ARCA OC OSA 1927 - 1977 Canadian
King of the Mountain
mixed media on board
initialed and dated 1973
39 x 72 1/4 in 99 x 183.5cm
Acquired directly from the Artist by Dr. James Maas
Private Collection, New York
Jeremy Adamson et al, Canadian Art, The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2008, the related 1968 painting entitled Reminiscences of Youth reproduced page 155, catalogue #7
Tobi Bruce, Mary Jo Hughes, Andrew Kear et al, William Kurelek / The Messenger, Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2011, a related 1968 - 1969 gouache and watercolour entitled King of the Castle reproduced page 34, catalogue #11, and the related 1968 painting entitled Reminiscences of Youth, in The Thomson Collection, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, reproduced pages 164 - 165, catalogue #71
William Kurelek is one of Canada's most interesting painters, and a complex and fascinating study as a person. In his work, much of which was created in a windowless, cramped studio in the basement of his Toronto home, we find the visual evidence of his difficult childhood in the cultural ephemera of his Ukrainian Orthodox heritage and the intricate symbols and signs of Roman Catholicism as interpreted through his art. Kurelek was raised in a hard-working, strict and rather intolerant farm family. The circumstances of his severe upbringing are what make his artwork so fascinating - while he could paint darkly emotional, even paranoid, subjects, he could also be joyous and tender.
In King of the Mountain, we have a scene painted from this literal, unfettered viewpoint. Likely drawn from one of Kurelek's own memories, a large stook of hay is shown covered in a blanket of snow forming a small hill, one that would have been mountainous to a Prairie child. The hill has been cut away - or perhaps has collapsed - on one side. Two cows graze in this newfound bounty, leaving dark holes where they have taken large mouthfuls of hay, while a small herd watches in the distance. Atop the hill, three boys, back-to-back to guard their positions, have claimed possession of the mountain crest, with their cohorts fighting off any would-be rivals. Some of the children ignore them, happy to sled and play instead, but most of them attempt to overtake the kingship, fighting and clawing their way to the top. While at first our attention is taken by this rambunctious, intense rivalry of children in all of its innocent, playful fun, if we look long enough, our attention will eventually come to rest on a simple white church at the right in the distance with striking, cross-like motifs in the window panes, and, at the left of the mountain, on a Christ-like figure sparely penciled against the white of the scene and partly hidden from our view. Subtle symbols and comments on human frailties such as greed and avarice, gluttony and the abuse of power are expressed through the actions of the children and the division of the cattle, while the buildings (perhaps representing home), the Christ-like figure and the church are minute in comparison to the intense struggle for the hilltop. Votives, Madonnas, nativities and other symbols were often used by Kurelek to express ideas of peace, enlightenment, a state of grace or the human good. Even the colour white, so predominant in this work, can be understood as a symbol of purity. A child intent on building a wall of snow, which at first glance is just a boy having fun, can be understood as meaning something entirely different when painted by Kurelek in a context such as this.
This superb work is the largest format painting by Kurelek that Heffel has ever offered at auction, and generally it is rare to find a Kurelek of this scale. King of the Mountain is the subject most sought after in his work ~ a complex and compelling Prairie scene involving Kurelek's memories of childhood events, balancing a subtle current of loving nostalgia with a penetrating eye for all the facets of human (and animal) nature.
Dr. James B. Maas is a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and retired professor of psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His encouragement led to the writing of Kurelek's autobiography Someone With Me. Maas also worked closely with Kurelek during the 1969 production of The Maze, a film about Kurelek's art.
S'est vendu pour: $380,250.00 CAN (prime d'achat incluse)
Estimation: 250,000 $ ~ 350,000 $ CAN
Exposé à: Heffel Fine Art Inc. Toronto