Wednesday, September 05, 2012

sep 19 | william kurelek | the maze | cinematheque

William Kurelek was a Canadian painter whose Christian faith survived severe childhood trauma and resulting mental illness. His Northern Nativity is a favourite of mine: the images can be seen in this YouTube video (though the music seems ill-suited to the spare images: I'd recommend turning off the volume).

William Kurelek’s The Maze
USA 1969/2011
Directors: Robert M Young, David Grubin [Re-imagined by Nick Young, Zack Young]
Colour, Blu-ray Disc. 60 mins.

Pacific Cinematheque
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 7:30pm

Canadian painter William Kurelek (1927-1977) may be best known for his beautiful illustrations of bucolic children’s classics (Who Has Seen the Wind?, A Prairie Boy’s Winter) and his landscapes of Ukrainian-Canadian prairie life, but it is his disturbing early work and difficult upbringing that is the subject of this intriguing documentary.

Born on a hardscrabble Alberta farm, the oldest of seven children of stern immigrant parents, the sensitive, artistic Kurelek was an outsider from an early age. Bullied at school and at home, especially by his fearsome father Dmytro, William left the farm as soon as he could. Settling in London in 1952, he sought help at the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital, an institution at the forefront of the art therapy movement. Kurelek was provided not only with treatment but space in which to paint. He created terrifying works with nightmarish and surreal imagery reminiscent of Bosch and Bruegel — including, in 1953, “The Maze,” a depiction of his tortured youth.

In 1969, the award-winning American filmmaker Robert M. Young co-directed a short documentary on Kurelek and “psychotic art.” Using original interviews, a new score, and modern digital animation techniques to give Kurelek’s paintings dimension and movement, filmmakers Nick and Zack Young have remastered and expanded their father’s original film into a comprehensive and insightful portrait of the artist as a young man.

PS Van Halen used the painting for the album cover on Fair Warning (1981). There's a good article on that cover here. From that article...

"The vividly brutal imagery contained in “The Maze” is remarkably different from the paintings sequel, entitled “Out Of The Maze”, painted after the artist’s recovery. This second painting reflects a pastoral countryside, as well as an artist no longer as deeply disturbed, with his wife and children enjoying a happy family picnic. However, all is not as idyllic as a first glance might suggest. An empty, open skull in the bottom left hand corner is a reminder of the psychological prison from which the artist has escaped and the impending storm on the far right horizon hints at Kurelek’s premonition that the world was heading for a nuclear holocaust."

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