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William Kurelek’s Adventures in Psychiatry | Part 2 of 2

Part Two of a two-part blog series by Sophia Gal.

Just as he had designed it, all of Kurelek’s insecurities are on display in The Maze, and they are not limited to the ones I have already described. The upper-right section, for instance, touches on political fears. The embodiment of Ukraine being raped by Russia, the demonstrators bearing quotes from 1984 and the bayonetting soldiers symbolise Kurelek’s attachment to Ukrainian nationalism, communism and his fears of war.(17) In spite of his resentment of the doctors’ focus on his sex life, the charging bull on the mid-left side symbolises his fear of libido left unchecked, and the ballroom-dancing marionettes his lack of direction for courtship.(18) The bottom-right corner houses his insecurities about mortality: the Museum of Hopelessness symbolising life and its distinct struggles (including his fear of a nuclear apocalypse)(19), the man on the conveyor belt symbolising the inevitability of death, and the figure at the very bottom being Kurelek dissecting himself to see if he is mortal.(20) In the throat of the skull are bitter experiences in the form of spiked burs. One bur has been opened again and again only to reveal a worm in the centre - his belief that those who make his acquaintance hope for something better but receive no payoff. Two great burs, representing his parents release little burs, representing Kurelek and his siblings. A solitary bur with a face in each hemisphere traps an infant in its spikes - this is Kurelek at odds with the version of Dmytro that he hated and the one he idolised. The bur provokes the tongue causing sawdust - tasteless education - to spew out.(21)

Eighteen years after the creation of The Maze, and subsequent to his recovery and return to Canada, Kurelek painted Out of the Maze, which he presented to the Maudsley as a gift. It depicts Kurelek and his family saying grace together on a grassy field - a happier scene than that of its predecessor. However, the piece carries more ominous undertones. In the bottom-left corner lies the Maze itself - though Kurelek is free from it, it remains a part of his memories and experiences. In the upper-right corner storm clouds gather, indicating disaster or his long-feared nuclear annihilation.(22)

Despite his yearning for psychotherapy, Kurelek attributed his recovery not to the treatment or ECT he received, but to his faith.(23) This faith was present in many of his works and inspired his desire to reconcile with his family and travel through the Middle East.(24) Thus, in the scheme of Kurelek’s life The Maze could be viewed as yet another step in his quest for artistic education, as fruitless as his searches in Europe or Mexico - or as an important milestone in Kurelek’s career. Either way, should the museum reopen and I get to tell people about The Maze once again, I will be sure not to forget the events at the Maudsley that inspired its creation.