Skip to main content

Artist William Kurelek, October 18, 1973.

Erik Christensen/The Globe and Mail

He's hot, he's sexy and he's dead.

That's how Rolling Stone magazine, in a 1981 cover story, described the mania for Jim Morrison 10 years after the Doors' lead singer expired from a drug overdose in a Paris apartment.

The cover line also has a certain application to William Kurelek – although as a devout, dour Christian with a decidedly apocalyptic bent he'd no doubt take umbrage at the "sexy" bit.

Story continues below advertisement

Still, there's no denying Canadian culture is in the midst of a major Kurelek moment 35 years after the Alberta-born painter's death in a Toronto hospital at 50. Over the last seven days the country's three major art auction houses – Heffel, Joyner Waddington's, Sotheby's – have put a total of 15 Kureleks on the block and all 15 have sold, most for amounts well above their presale estimates. Heffel, in fact, set an auction record for Kurelek last Thursday when it sold one of his archetypal mixed-media winter allegories, 1973's King of the Mountain, for $380,250 to Winnipeg dealer Bill Mayberry. Overall, the three auction houses grossed more than $1.4-million from this fall's Kurelek consignments. If popularity and market power are sexy, then William Kurelek is very sexy indeed.

Of course, Kurelek's always been a favourite of collectors, even during his tortured and tortuous life. Before this recent round of auctions, he ranked among the 20 top-performing Canadian artists in the resale market. Not everything by him that went up for bidding would sell, however. Now this seems to be very much the case. Take Spoiling the Snow Carving, a 1960 oil depicting what appears to be a mother pouring boiling water from a kettle into a washtub that's been used to house a snow castle built by her children. It's a tough, unsentimental picture, cruel even (the right hand of the young girl in the lower right corner, for instance, obviously has been badly scalded and she's sucking her fingers in pain) and undoubtedly inspired by Kurelek's own strenuous Prairie upbringing as the oldest of seven children born to hard-scrabble Ukrainian immigrants. Consigned to Sotheby's, Spoiling went into bidding Tuesday evening with a presale estimate of $12,000 to $18,000 – an indication the auction house felt its unforgiving subject matter wouldn't elicit big dollars. Yet the painting sold for more than $57,000, including buyer's premium. Clearly a Kurelek painting, however harsh its contents, is the closest thing to a sure sale in the often volatile Canadian art market.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter