The astonishing career of the Canadian Catholic painter William Kurelek is an anomaly in the history of modern religious art. His paintings hang in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirschhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institute, the collection of Queen Elizabeth II, the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and several other museums in North America and Europe. During his lifetime he was honoured with more than thirty national and international awards, no less than six documentary films have been made of his life and work to date, and at least sixteen books of his stories and paintings have been published, including his great project, The Passion of Christ, a series of 160 illustrations of the Gospel of Matthew. Kurelek became increasingly well-known as his work was published and as he attracted more and more attention in international magazines. The New York Times called him “the North American Breughel.” Memories of his childhood surfaced in award-winning books such as A Prairie Boy’s Summer and A Prairie Boy’s Winter. His imaginative Northern Nativity, a redepiction of the birth of Christ in Canadian scenes, became a modern children’s classic. In later years he concentrated on several volumes which illustrated the life of the ethnic peoples of Canada: the Inuit, the Irish, the Jews, the Poles and the Ukrainians. At his death he left an estimated ten thousand works of art (a figure which includes major drawings), two thousand of which were paintings completed during the seventeen years between his first exhibition and his death in 1977. The fame which came to him during those public years was in stark contrast to the desolation of his early life as an artist, during which he labored under chronic depression and almost universal indifference to his message.
Those of you who have read my novels, or my articles on globalization, know that I believe that the radical model of “world governance” currently being promoted by the United Nations Organization and by other organizations will be a new form of totalitarianism, if it is ever fully realized. It’s my conviction that the globalism of the new world order will not bring order but instead will bring a semblance of order through total control over all sectors of private and public life. It will, in the process, infest life in the human community on this planet with all manner of disorders and anti-human dimensions. That kind of globalism embodies within its core presumptions certain errors about the meaning of the human person, and the human community. In a sense it represents the worst kind of ultra-nationalism, but inflated to the planetary scale, lacking the lavish diversity provided by numerous different cultures and nations states–a diversity that is essential for any human civilization.
Island of the World is the story of a child born in 1933 into the turbulent world of the Balkans and tracing his life into the third millennium. The central character is Josip Lasta, the son of an impoverished school teacher in a remote village high in the mountains of the Bosnian interior. As the novel begins, World War II is underway and the entire region of Yugoslavia is torn by conflicting factions: German and Italian occupying armies, and the rebel forces that resist them — the fascist Ustashe, Serb nationalist Chetniks, and Communist Partisans. As events gather momentum, hell breaks loose, and the young and the innocent are caught in the path of great evils. Their only remaining strength is their religious faith and their families.
This interview for Traces, the Italian language journal of the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation, appears in its July 2007 edition. The interviewer is Dr. Edoardo Rialti, a professor of literature in Florence, Italy, and translator of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Howard and others.
During the 30 years I have been a painter and writer, I have noted a distinct pattern in myself: Whenever my prayer and sacramental life grow lax, the work suffers. It may continue to be clever and even dazzling to the eye, yet it becomes more and more shallow. Here is the vine and the branches that Jesus speaks of with a certain urgency. If creators of Christian culture hope to produce work that will bear good fruit, we must draw our life from the true source — our living Savior. He is real. He is present. But all too often we reduce him to an abstraction, giving him intellectual assent, but not our hearts.
I live in Canada, which for half of the year is a cold country. For most of our thirty years of marriage my wife and I have had a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a central place in our home, and her face has been a constant source of warmth and consolation to us. It is a mystery to me how her face seems to change from day to day. Some days she is smiling, on other days there is a gentle grief in her eyes, on still others we feel a wave of quiet, steady love coming from her. Nothing dramatic, but always there. We see her as the Mother of our family. We know she is also the Mother of the Americas. She is also the mother of all peoples, the mother of all mankind, and at Guadalupe she is revealed as the Woman of Revelation, the one who will crush the serpent with her heel.
When she appeared in the very epicenter of the Aztec cult of death, the new world’s heart of darkness, she identified herself in these words: “I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things, who is master of heaven and earth. . . . I am your merciful Mother, the mother of all who live united in this land, of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me.”