During the 1960s, William Kurelek painted some of his most disturbing tableaus offering moral instruction. Many of these highlighted how both liberal capitalist democracies and communist societies had turned away from God.
The world changed dramatically in the 1960s. Events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis intensified fears of nuclear conflagration worldwide. The civil rights, women’s, and counter-culture movements gave voice to marginalized populations. The space race highlighted the role of scientific and technological advancement in the mad dash for global superpower supremacy.
These events greatly affected Kurelek and took shape in his paintings. At the same time, Kurelek took practical measures to ensure his family’s ability to survive a possible nuclear attack. In 1968, after news of his intent had already been reported in the media, Kurelek got permission to construct a nuclear blast shelter in a former coal cellar in the basement of his Toronto residence. Due to cost, the shelter was never completed. However, over the next decade, he used this cramped, unventilated space as his painting studio.