William Kurelek’s early artistic career is characterized by his search for identity as an artist and as a human being. Two major self-portraits, from 1950 and 1957, present very different perceptions of the artist. Together they bracket his early adulthood experiences of mental illness, self-discovery, and conversion to Roman Catholicism.
The works that Kurelek painted between his first and second self-portraits are largely unfamiliar to the general public. Many of these paintings were produced while Kurelek was undergoing psychiatric care for depression and crippling anxiety, at the Maudsley and Netherne hospitals in England. Both institutions were at the forefront of integrating art therapy into their patient treatment practices.
During this time Kurelek also had the opportunity to travel to Continental Europe. Here he experienced firsthand the art of Northern Renaissance masters, such as Brueghel, Bosch, and van Eyck. Kurelek’s art from this period conveys his interest in various art historical sources and styles, his exploration of his past as well as his cultural identity, and his expression of his emotional difficulties.