Sept. 1, 2006
The poetry of paint on wood
Etrog retrospective dazzles with key works from artist's youth.
By the time Bob Crone asked his friend, sculptor, poet and philosopher
Sorel Etrog, to design the statuette for the Genie Awards in 1968,
Etrog was already well established as one as Canada's great sculptors.
The statuette became known as the "Etrog" and the
sculptor himself has gone on to become one of the most influential
in the world.
The artist was in town last week for the opening of a retrospective
of his work at the Buschlen Mowatt Gallery, running until Sept.
Sitting at a table stacked with catalogues, Etrog, now in his 70s,
could hardly keep up with demands for autographs.
Etrog has always been an artist with eclectic interests and the
works on show in the gallery's Painted Constructions exhibition
were initially inspired by the lively culture of Tel-Aviv during
the 1950s. He continued to work on them during an eight-year period
in the United States and, finally, in Canada.
Barrie Mowatt spent 10 years assembling these seminal works from
museums and private collections.
"They haven't been seen by the public for more than 30 years,"
he said. Mowatt pointed out that collectors are aware primarily
of Etrog's later work, mostly bronzes that explore the interface
of man and his machines that have had a major impact on the development
of modern art trends.
Etrog was born in Romania in 1933, a child of war, want and Nazi
terror. His family immigrated to Israel, where his formal art training
began. His grandfather was a skilled cabinetmaker, so it was natural
that the young Etrog first used wood for his creations. Brilliantly
juxtaposing formal elements in a dynamic dance, they have lost none
of their power or freshness, evoking shields and other archetypal
forms in colors both vivid and subtle.
Etrog's early artistic vision was influenced by Klee, Miro and Chagall.
Jan Ballard, co-owner of Buschlen Mowatt, said that Etrog felt especially
drawn to Chagall because he shared his optimistic attitude towards
life at a time when it wasn't easy to be hopeful.
Etrog is now a member of the Order of Canada as well as a Chevalier
of Arts and Letters. The story of his long and illustrious career
might have turned out quite differently if it hadn't been for the
kind of lucky break that every young and struggling artist can only
A scholarship to New York that turned out to be less than wonderful
galvanized him into making the rounds of the galleries. They turned
him down. Disheartened, he was about to give up when he had a chance
meeting with Samuel Zack, a Toronto collector who happened to walk
into the gallery where he was trying to get a show with some of
his early wooden constructions. The collector, a businessman with
a strong interest in art and a private collection of "primitive"
pieces, became Etrog's mentor, encouraging him to move to Canada.
Etrog had his first solo show in Toronto in 1959. Three years later,
he was already so well known that he was chosen as one of three
artists representing Canada at the Venice Biennale. Today, Etrog
is practically a household name among collectors and art lovers
all over the world and his work is in all the major public galleries.
Monika Ullmann is a Vancouver freelance writer and editor.