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Detail: Where am I? Who am I? Why am I?, William Kurelek, c. 1953-1954

William Kurelek


William Kurelek was born in 1927 to a Ukrainian farm family who had immigrated to the Canadian prairie lands. The eldest of seven children, Kurelek developed his passion for art at an early age, but was adamantly discouraged by his father to pursue his interest. Suffering from mental anguish, depression, and early onset schizophrenia, Kurelek was institutionalized in England for a period of four years as a young adult. After a suicide attempt, which he stated was, "at his parents' request", Kurelek converted from his Ukrainian Orthodox faith to the Roman Catholic Church. During this time, Kurelek produced several works inspired by the environment around him, his childhood on the prairie, and his new-found religion. While in Europe, he painted his world-famous work, The Maze, depicting the inside of his skull filled with desperate scenes of his childhood. About the same time, Kurelek created a self-portrait as a blind man stumbling in the desert with a tiny dying tree in the background. The blind man poses the questions, Where am I? Who am I? Why am I? (also the title of the painting, which can be found in the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum).

Kurelek went on to have a full psychiatric recovery, becoming happily married and the father of four children. At the time of his death to cancer at the age of 50, Kurelek was hailed as Canada's greatest painter. Twenty books related to his art and life have been published, selling well over one million copies.


To learn more about William Kurelek, visit: http://kurelek.ca/.