William Kurelek: An Interesting Specimen

William Kurelek: An Interesting Specimen

To our fans,

It’s been a while since we’ve written to you and we want to take this time to share some updates on our great adventures and progress with Out of the Maze. Earlier this year, Zack and I (Nick) packed up our camera equipment and boarded a “Hobbit” themed Air New Zealand plane (pictured above) in Los Angeles destined for a week long journey in the UK.

London, UK Premiere at the Edward Adamson Festival

We had an excellent screening of William Kurelek’s The Maze at the Maudsley psychiatric hospital’s learning center in London where Kurelek was first treated back in the early 1950’s. It was screened as part of the Edward Adamson Festival which also featured a Kurelek / Adamson exhibit at the Bethlem Museum and Archives. Edward Adamson was a pioneer of art therapy in Britain who treated Kurelek while he was a patient at Netherne Hospital.  Edward Adamson’s book “Art is Healing” has been newly republished in light of the festival and features a chapter on Kurelek.  You can learn more about the book here.

The Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital - where Kurelek painted The Maze and was a patient in the 1950's and where the film had its London, UK premiere as part of the Edward Adamson Festival

The Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital – where Kurelek painted The Maze and was a patient in the 1950’s and where the film had its London, UK premiere as part of the Edward Adamson Festival

Professor Edgar Jones kindly gave us an in depth tour of Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital before the screening.  The stairs and door of the hospital pictured above was the front entrance that William Kurelek first entered while seeking help.  We learned that the building was intentionally designed low so as not to be too tall and intimidating to new arrivals.  The Maudsley Hospital paved the way for new developments and innovations in treating the mentally ill in the early/mid 20th century.  Many of the patients’ rooms were designed to face the sun because the doctors realized it was an important daily part of the patient’s well being.

At the screening (L-R) Dr. David O'Flynn (Edward Adamson's estate representative), Stephen Kurelek, Hannah Jay (an exceptional artist! and major supporter behind this project), Zack Young, & Nick Young

At the screening (L-R) Dr. David O’Flynn (Edward Adamson’s estate representative), Stephen Kurelek, Hannah Jay (an exceptional artist! and major supporter behind this project), Zack Young, & Nick Young

Visiting the Psychiatric Hospitals in London, UK

Thanks to Edward Adamson’s estate representative, Dr. David O’Flynn, we had a busy schedule which featured private tours of the Maudsley, Netherne, & Bethlem Royal hospitals, captured many fantastic interviews and photographed additional Kurelek paintings for the film. It was a very different perspective then we were accustomed to. In Canada, he is famous for his beautiful depictions of early 20th century “life on the farm” or prairie paintings. In the UK, Kurelek is known as the psychiatric patient who painted The Maze or as he called himself in the film “an interesting specimen” who just happened to be a Canadian artist. We learned about many other artists who never left the psychiatric hospitals and it gave me chills realizing that he could have spent the rest of his days in the hospitals painting. Fortunately, it was only a chapter in his life but what a profound chapter it was!

George Frogley (pictured) & Caroline Cattini gave us a special tour of Netherne Psychiatric Hospital where Kurelek worked with Edward Adamson (known as the father of art therapy in Britain).

George Frogley (pictured) & Caroline Cattini gave us a special tour of Netherne Psychiatric Hospital where Kurelek worked with Edward Adamson (known as the father of art therapy in Britain).

Zack and I joined William’s son Stephen Kurelek for the screening and to witness the Kurelek exhibit firsthand in Bethlem’s Museum. Two very important paintings to this project were appropriately displayed side by side. The Maze (1953) and Out of the Maze (1971). Other Kurelek paintings on display include The Nightmare, I Spit on Life, and Ball of Twine. While visiting Bethlem (the first psychiatric hospital founded in 13th century London), we interviewed Bethlem’s senior archivist Colin Gale about the history of Kurelek’s time in London and the many clues and meanings hidden in this incredible collection of Kurelek’s darkest works.

Stephen Kurelek & Zack Young reading a hand written explanation Stephen's father William wrote about The NIghtmare which he drew while a patient to communicate with his doctors

Stephen Kurelek & Zack Young reading a hand written explanation Stephen’s father William wrote about The NIghtmare which he drew while a patient to communicate with his doctors

We spent the entire day photographing all the paintings at great length to capture all of their hidden details. It was thrilling for us, including Stephen, to finally see The Maze painting in person. I had a strange feeling rush over me while I photographed up close the many compartments of The Maze and recalled the exact shots our father captured at the same proximity in 1969. It was as if we were standing in front of the same actor on the same movie set, witnessing the same powerful performance… frozen in time. That’s what Kurelek’s paintings do… they eternally capture a story unfolding… a situation in the process of happening. It’s the hook in his paintings… the story that draws us in deeper, into his world.

Colin Gale, senior archivist at Bethlem Royal Hospitals Museum & Archives seen here explaining the symbolism between The Maze (1953) & Out of the Maze (1971)

Colin Gale, senior archivist at Bethlem Royal Hospitals Museum & Archives seen here explaining the symbolism between The Maze (1953) & Out of the Maze (1971)

Calling All Owners of Kurelek Paintings

During William Kurelek’s life, he painted over 4,000 works of art and we’re constantly on the search for paintings that may have disappeared from the public’s eye. Out of the Maze is an opportunity for us to showcase many paintings that didn’t appear in WK’s The Maze.  Speaking of which, if there are any paintings you know of or personally own which may be hidden from the public’s eye, please let us know.  If we don’t hear from you, we’ll never know it exists.  Feel free to write to us personally at nick@themazemovie.com.

Nick draped in black to avoid reflections... photographing sections of "The Nightmare" at Bethlem Royal Hospital's Museum & Archives.

Nick draped in black to avoid reflections… photographing sections of “The Nightmare” at Bethlem Royal Hospital’s Museum & Archives.

New Discoveries  

A few months back, the Kurelek family lent us their family albums which their father put together with his own two hands. We’ve scanned them all and have digitized many slides that have been in storage for a number of years. As we’re working on the film, we can’t help but think that it’s as if the artist himself, somehow knew that we were going to be making this movie and left tons of clues behind to help us piece sequences together along the way. For example, one of the paintings Zack and I photographed recently in the London Transport Museum is a painting called Tramlines depicting workers pulling out the old tracks from the streets to replace the trams with busses. Kurelek spent time working on the tramlines himself, and this painting was the first painting he sold (for about 20 pounds in 1952) while he was a patient at Maudsley Hospital in London. In the photo album, he included an image of the painting with lines drawn to photographs of actual tramline workers he referenced for his inspiration.

Nick photographing Kurelek's masterpiece Tramlines in the London Transport Museum

Nick photographing Kurelek’s masterpiece Tramlines in the London Transport Museum

This is just one example of clues he’s left behind to give us a deeper sense of the sources of his inspiration. We’ve been learning that he had an incredible concentration and photographic memory/imagination and these photographs now help paint a more 3 dimensional picture as to how he studied people and places and how it wasn’t just the image that excited him but the stories behind the images. We’ll be in touch shortly with more updates on our progress.

All our best, 
Nick & Zack

William Kurelek's masterpiece Tramlines (1952) was the first painting he ever sold while a patient at Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital. It's on permanent display in the London Transport Museum (image appears courtesy of the Estate of William Kurelek)

William Kurelek’s masterpiece Tramlines (1952) was the first painting he ever sold while a patient at Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital. It’s on permanent display in the London Transport Museum (image appears courtesy of the Estate of William Kurelek)

 

 

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