William Kurelek, the whimsical Canadian realist, has been dead for decades, but his art still opens eyes, fills hearts and titillates our imaginations.

To confirm Kurelek’s impact you only had to watch the working faces in the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) foyer during the Official Opening Reception (January 29) to see how Kurelek’s populated structures, rock’em-sock’em story-telling and carefully hidden bit-players capture the imagination, and leave a broad smile behind.

The three women whose faces, for me, were chock full of expressions that ran from daunt to joy on that clear winter’s day were Gallery President and CEO Louise Dompierre, Membership-and-Audience wrangler Gloria Pilot (relatively new to the AGH), and Volunteer Cheerleader Laurie Kilgour-Walsh. Each was pleasantly rocked at the afternoon Reception’s relentless crush of the curious.

In fact the Gallery estimates that as many as 2250 piled into the AGH (123 King Street West) to snatch a glimpse of the creative and entertaining gifts of Kurelek, the Canadian-Ukrainian farmboy who struggled all his adult life with paranoid schizophrenia, catholicism, and the odd bouts of penury.


Only the reopening of the AGH in 2005 attracted more visitors in a single day.


Eighty pieces of Kurelek’s 2,000 works are on splendid display at the AGH, and each deserves a minimum of five minutes of your time. It’s also a show, miraculously, that every generation of any Canadian family can enjoy, without embarrassment, and be enriched by.

There’s more than greets the eye in this show, named The Messenger. There is also a collaborative book and a website. The show will be at the AGH till the end of April. So you might want to consider repeat visits.

Whom do we have to thank for this marvelous show? Start with the three mid-sized Canadian galleries that pulled it together: the Winnipeg Art Gallery; the Art Gallery of Hamilton; and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

And of course deep bows should be lavished on co-curators Tobi Bruce, Mary Jo Hughes, and Andrew Kear. How did they know we would be ready for a Kurelek retrospective?


Go and see.


Crowd photo courtesy Mike Lalich


Art photos AGH


Article written by Tom Reid


Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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