The Maze (painting)

The Maze is a painting that Canadian artist William Kurelek produced while a patient at Maudsley Hospital in London. Kurelek was born in 1927 into a Ukrainian immigrant community in Alberta, Canada, and suffered through childhood from the oppression of his farmer father. As a young adult he grew mentally ill, and at Maudsley received not only treatment but a room to paint. The Maze can be interpreted as Kurelek's attempt to justify this privilege; as Kurelek writes, "I had to impress the hospital staff as being a worthwhile specimen to keep on."The Maze was painted in gouache colors. Kurelek describes it as "a painting of the inside of my skull." That skull has been split open vertically to reveal various compartments inside. Through the eyes, nose, and mouth we can see the rest of the body lying in a wheat field. Inside the skull itself, each compartment holds a scrap of paper, representing a memory or thought. The center compartment, however, holds only a white rat, which represents Kurelek's spirit. The rat is wound up and inert, having run through the maze of the skull chewing a piece of each scrap of paper and finding it undigestible.The skull in the painting has been opened up by ribbon, to suggest the work of the doctors at the mental hospital, attempting to make a proper diagnosis. Kurelek depicted the rat spirit as inert, unwilling to leave his prison even though it has been opened up for him. This was Kurelek's way of showing his doctors what their job was. He writes, in his autobiography, "Now clean me out, I challenge you scientists, and put me back together again – a happy, balanced, mature, fulfilled personality. Lift that rat out and unwind him and let him run free!"


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