Kurelek's quest for ethnic consciousness was a life-long pursuit and through his art he explored the immigrant experience in Canada, particularly that of the Prairies. As a chronicler of this collective experience he depicts the traditions that are unique within these communities, while alluding to their greater context - always with his characteristic humourism and light touch. Whether the subject is of family, farming, religion, hardship, or his own childhood reminiscences, his work is based on acute observation.
At first glance, the subject of this painting appears deceptively simple but upon closer inspection it is much more complex. The composition and depiction of characters are rendered with a directness that sharpens the narrative of the image. Kurelek noetd: "My background is Ukrainian and farm, hence...the naïve, earthy, unclassical, almost brutal aspect of my style, especially rendering of figures, have a lot to do with the hard life of the farm."
We are initially invited to share in a familiar domestic ritual – that of making perogies. The mother's bulk as she rolls the dough with her beefy forearms gives her a presence and dignity as she performs the daily task of preparing one of the family's traditional dishes. The older child, a diligent assistant, carefully spoons the filling. Outside the windowsill, upon which a spool of thread and scissors have been momentarily laid to rest, a glimpse through the window reveals that outside the farmer, her husband, toils in the field, a pile of cut wood attesting to a long and productive morning.
Without being overtly dramatic, Kurelek is able to convey the relentless hard work of a family that relies on farming for its livelihood. The small details Kurelek places throughout the picture serve to relate a more complex narrative, one which speaks to the arduous labour of establishing a new life, while trying to maintain the unique traditionals of the old country.
Despite the many hardships of an immigrant's life, Kurelek nonetheless gives us a an image of optimism. While the challenges of rural life are real and made palpable in this work, there is still time for joy. And what more can be more joyful than children helping their mother as she cooks while sneaking a little lick at their fingers and spoon?
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