Bertram Brooker: A Creative Force
May 3rd to May 31st, 2014

The Finite Wrestling- with the Infinite
The Finite Wrestling- with the Infinite, 1925
oil on board, 24" × 17"
Abstract No.3 (Vertical Progression)
Abstract No.3 (Vertical Progression), c.1948
watercolour on paper, 15" × 11"
Abundance
Abundance, c.1948-1950
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
All the World's a Stage
All the World's a Stage, 1929
pen and ink on paper, 11" × 8"
Autumn Bouquet
Autumn Bouquet, c.1948-1950
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
Brooker Residence
Brooker Residence, nd
oil on board, 10.5" × 8.5"
Two sided canvas, click image to see verso.
Crucifixion
Crucifixion, c.1927-1928
oil on canvas, 24" × 17"
Double Bass
Double Bass, 1953-1954
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
Fence Corner, No.2
Fence Corner, No.2, 1937
pencil on paper, 13.5" × 9.25"
Figure Study, No.2
Figure Study, No.2, nd
pen and ink on paper, 11" × 8"
French Village
French Village, 1935
pen and ink on paper, 11" × 8"
Goderich Farm
Goderich Farm, nd
watercolour on paper, 15" × 11"
Green Bottle
Green Bottle, c.1937
oil on board, 15" × 11"
Jesus (Palette Knife)
Jesus (Palette Knife), nd
oi on board, 14 × 9.5"
Lone Tree
Lone Tree, nd
oil on canvas, 15" × 11"
Manitoba Willows
Manitoba Willows, c.1928
oil on board, 12" × 15"
North Shore
North Shore, c.1942
oil on canvas, 36" × 48"
Recessional
Recessional, 1951
watercolour on paper, 24" × 17"
Road Side Shrine, Quebec
Road Side Shrine, Quebec, 1946
watercolour over pen and ink on paper, 13.5" × 10.5"
Shoes
Shoes, c.1934-1936
oil on board, 12" × 14"
St. Pierre Interior
St. Pierre Interior, 1947
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
Striving
Striving, c.1930
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
Study of Trees, No.13
Study of Trees, No.13, 1933
pencil on paper, 11.5" × 8.5"
Swing of Time
Swing of Time, 1954
oil on canvas, 30" × 24"
Tree Top, No.6
Tree Top, No.6, 1931
pencil on paper, 11" × 14"
Tree Trunk, No.13
Tree Trunk, No.13, nd
pencil on paper, 10" × 14"
Umbrella Tree
Umbrella Tree, 1950
oil on masonite, 30" × 24"
Untitled
Untitled, nd
ink on paper, 12.5" × 9.5"

Slideshow

Bertram Brooker – Artist Biography

Bertram Brooker, to the degree that he passionately pursued virtually all of the arts and excelled in a number of them, is a unique Canadian cultural figure. He was also a trail-blazer; one of the earliest Canadians to contribute to the nascent film industry, the winner of the first Governor-General’s Award for literature, the first painter in Canada to present an exhibition of abstract art; and throughout all of this active as a journalist and prominent in the advertising industry. His life is a truly remarkable story.

Born in Croydon, England, in 1888, he emigrated to Canada with his family in 1905, settling in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where he worked for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for six years. In 1911 he and his brother took over the operation of a silent movie theatre in Neepawa, Manitoba, and the following year he sold some detective ‘thriller’ scripts to Vitagraph, a large film-production company in Brooklyn, New York. He left the film business in 1914, however, to work for the local newspaper back in Portage la Prairie. He then served briefly with a nearby unit of the Canadian Corps of Military Engineers, but following the war went back to newspaper work in Winnipeg and Regina. Then in 1921 he moved to Toronto to become editor ofMarketing magazine, the trade journal of the Canadian advertising industry. He purchased the magazine in 1924, then sold it in 1926, working as a freelance journalist to support himself. Although he seems always to have been interested in drawing and painting and certainly practiced graphic design in his advertising work, the lively art scene then in Toronto began to engage him more deeply in such pursuits. This began in May 1923 when he joined the Arts & Letters Club where he met, among others, a number of the members of the Group of Seven. He and Lawren Harris in particular, with whom he shared a deep interest in the spiritual dimensions of life and art, developed a close relationship. The relative flexibility of freelance journalism allowed him to devote a good portion of his time to painting and this resulted in a remarkable sequence of abstract paintings in the late ‘twenties. These works, such as Crucifixion and Striving, while retaining a figurative element, are boldly abstract, employing form and colour to explore deep layers of meaning in their apparent narratives. Brooker compared his approach at this time to the richly nuanced messages conveyed by music. Impressed by such work, Arthur Lismer sponsored an exhibition at the Arts & Letters Club in January 1927, the first exhibition of abstract painting by a Canadian artist. It appears to have been received with considerable interest, although not everyone was impressed. J.E.H. MacDonald felt that such work belittled painting’s capacity to reflect the direct experience of life. Nonetheless, Brooker was invited to be a guest contributor to the 1928 Group of Seven exhibition, showing two of his abstracts.

In October 1928 he took on a regular column for the Southam chain of newspapers he called “The Seven Arts”, which ran until November 1930. He also put together a Yearbook of the Ats in Canada, 1928-1929, published by Macmillan in Toronto in 1929, and also that year a limited edition of reproductions of drawings entitled Elijah. Under the pseudonym Richard Surrey he published with McGraw-Hill in New York two volumes on advertising techniques in 1929 and 1930. The stock-market crash in 1929 and subsequent economic depression put a huge stress on financial resources, however, and late in 1930 he took a full-time position with J.J. Gibbons, a Toronto-based advertising firm with interests in New York, London, and every major Canadian city. While this meant that he did not have as much time for painting it does not seem to have significantly impacted his creativity in that field. His work, in fact, had taken quite a dramatic turn. The summer of 1929 he had met the Winnipeg painter LeMoine FitzGerald, and the two became life-long friends. Brooker turned to figurative painting with a passion, creating a series of sensuous studies of tree-branches inspired by FitzGerald’s work. Even though they evoke human limbs and torsos in a manner -- as we see in the paintings Manitoba Willows and Lone Tree, as well as in numerous drawings -- that directly emulates FitzGerald, they are executed with such conviction, such passion, that they generate an originality that is all their own. And they also broadened Brooker’s scope, leading to a range of figurative explorations, evident inShoes, Green Bottle, and North Shore, that allowed him to fully exploit his remarkable sense of form and colour in a wonderfully creative way.

He also, for the first time, really, actively pursued new venues to display his art. He exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy in 1930, 1931, and 1936, and in the Spring Show at the Art Association of Montreal in 1931. There also was an exhibition of his abstractions at Hart House in the University of Toronto in March 1931. He had a work accepted by the Ontario Society of Artists early in 1931, Figures in Landscape, which depicts two female nudes in an outdoor setting, that was removed from the exhibition for reasons of propriety by officers of the Art Gallery of Toronto where it was being shown. This caused quite a dispute, of course, and Brooker made sure the issues were publicly debated, making it clear that he would not be discouraged by such actions. He became a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters in 1933, and in the spring of 1934 went to a four-day week at Gibbons, hoping to free up more time for his painting. In 1935 he became a member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, and in 1936 he was made a member of the Ontario Society of Artists. That year it was also revealed that he was hardly devoting all his non-advertising time to painting, however, when it was announced that his 1936 novel, Think of the Earth, had been awarded the first Governor-General’s Award for Fiction. He also brought out a mystery novel under the pseudonym of Huxley Herne, Tangled Miracle, with the London firm Thomas Nelson and sons, that year, as well as a Yearbook of the Arts in Canada, 1936, with Macmillan again. Two experimental “psychodramas” he wrote were produced in Toronto in 1935 and 1936. Then the following year, in April, he had a commercial exhibition of his painting at the Picture Loan Society in Toronto, and in November 1937 another show at Hart House.

Brooker’s energy was remarkable. In November 1940 he left Gibbons for a full-time position with the MacLaren Advertising Company, a major Toronto firm that he remained with to near the end of his life, serving latterly as vice-president. He still remained active in his other fields, however. He had one more exhibition at Hart House in 1942, and another at the Arts & Letters Club in 1947, and in 1949 brought out another novel, The Robber, with Collins in Toronto. Most amazingly, though, he continued to work through his painting in an increasingly personal way, exploring a wide range of possibilities with notable success. These range from the almost ghost-like spirituality of St. Pierre Interior, shown with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1947, through to the startlingly present, yet visionary, Umbrella Tree, which he showed with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1951. While he continued to explore a more geometric figurative abstraction of colour and form evocative of his work of the late ‘twenties, as in Pharaoh’s Daughter and Machine World, both of 1950, he also moved into new areas of semi-abstraction, as in Abundance of 1950, in which the paint appears to have been applied in part with a palette knife. Swing of Time of 1954 goes even further into new territory, displaying a number of images delicately meshed together with a skilled designer’s hand exploring the ways throughout history that time has been recorded. It is perhaps not surprising that time was on his mind. He died in March 1955.

-Dennis Reid, March 2014


Slideshow

Daphne OdjigDaphne Odjig, Canadian Indigenous Artist and Icon Dies at 97. Click here for more details.

Odjig is frequently referred to as the "Grandmother of Indigenous Art." She has been the recipient of many awards, honours and recognitions for her works, to name a few: The Order of Canada, the Governor General's Award, and eight Honorary Doctorates. Her works have been shown in the National Gallery of Canada, The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Art Gallery of Ontario.


She established the first native-run fine art print house in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1971. Known as 'Odjig Indian Prints,' this print house was so successful that it evolved into an Indigenous gallery space in 1974, called the New Warehouse Gallery, run by Odjig and her husband, Chester Beavon. She was also a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven. This artistic group's purpose was to promote Contemporary Indigenous art and artists.

Alex JanvierAlex Janvier's major retrospective, "Alex Janvier: Modern Indigenous Master" is now open at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario until January 21st, 2018. Afterwards, it will travel to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

This exhibition was recently on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. Alex Janvier is one of Canada's most acclaimed contemporary artists. His career of sixty-five years has yielded thousands of paintings, and more than twenty-five murals and public commissions. (Photo credit: Kim Griffiths)

Rita LetendreGallery Gevik congratulates renowned Canadian and International abstract painter, Rita Letendre, on her first major museum retrospective exhibition outside of Québec. Rita Letendre: Fire and Light is now open until September 17, 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This exhibition, which covers Letendre's career from the 1960's to 2000's, is co-curated by Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik. The retrospective features nearly forty large-scale paintings drawn from major national public and private collections.

Letendre was widely exhibited with the artistic groups, Les Automatistes and Les Plasticiens. She has received the Governor General's Award in Visual Arts, the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, and the Orders of Canada, Ontario and Québec. Click here for more details.