Traumafession:: Bigwig on Kulerek’s The Maze

Hi guys.

This one will come at you from a different direction.

William Kulerek’s Despair.

We had Time-Life Science books in our bookcase growing up, which were a layman’s overview of a variety of topics; not quite an encyclopedic. They were broken down simple enough for a nine year old to at least look at, and we poured over them, since they were rife with illustrations. One such volume was called “The Mind”. In the middle of the book was a section on Art used as therapy in diagnosing mental disorders.

I wanted to be an artist.

There were a few paintings by schizophrenics, and a few by Van Gogh…but the most riveting was a two-page spread by William Kulerek entitled “The Maze“. This was before the internet, and I had no idea that Kulerek was an accomplished painter; rather I thought he was merely an incredibly good, incredibly ill patient. The painting was a cross-section of his skull laying in a field, with many painful, harrowing, surreal illustrated memories compartmentalized within. The caption by the photo went to say that the artist painted “The Maze” while in a mental hospital as means of therapy.

I would always stare horrified at these pages, seeing these interpreted memories of a young boy being isolated, beaten, mocked, dissected….and they get worse…horrified not so much by the images themselves, but by the fact that someone felt this way. Could a child’s life have been this horrible?

Somewhere down the line, after I came out of art school some 15 years later, I stumbled upon another painting called “I Spit on Life”. All it took was five seconds I’m sure until I was assured that this painting, perhaps even more bleak with it’s hopeless, miserable vignettes, was created by the same artist from the mental hospital in the book I saw as a kid. It turns out William Kulerek was far more a talent than I had ever known. In fact, Van Halen used part of “The Maze” as an album cover in the 80’s. News to me.

The good news is that Kulerek tamed his inner demons to a point, and went on to illustrate children’s books, and painted a number of religious works before his death. But none of those pictures, which I have seen, had near the lasting impression of these bleak works which had a place in my nightmares and sleepless nights throughout childhood.

Kulerek’s own explanation of The Maze with a picture: (HERE).

Here’s a great zoom-inable view of “I Spit on Life”: (HERE)

And just like that….I find this is coming out…

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El Borak
El Borak
9 years ago


9 years ago

Our family had that book… it’s still on the shelves in my parents’ library. That picture haunted me as a kid too… it’s so bleak and horrifying. It had a big effect on my general outlook on things… probably not for the better.