Brooker Comes Alive!

Canadian artist Bertram Brooker’s work is shown in a new light

Brooker’s work is pinnacle to defining abstract impressionism.
Brooker’s work is pinnacle to defining abstract impressionism.
Credit: 
Supplied
Brooker’s work “Untitled (landscape).”
Brooker’s work “Untitled (landscape).”
Credit: 
Supplied

Transformation and change is evident in the world around us, so it’s no surprise that it appears in the work of Canadian artist Bertram Brooker in the It’s Alive! Bertram Brooker and Vitalism exhibition on display at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

Bertram Brooker (1888-1955) was a Canadian artist whose work displays a fascinating transformation from straightforward, natural images early in his career to more whimsical and skewed works later on. Paintings and drawings from about a 30-year-period are currently on display. It seems like in each of three decades, ranging from the 1930s to the 1950s, a gradual change occurs both in style and subject.

Brooker’s work starts out simple and natural in the 1930s, with still-life works, portraits and landscapes done with a variety of mediums like ink to oil and watercolour. The pictures are well-done and lean more towards a traditional style compared to his later works.

The 1940s act as a transition period between an impressionist and an abstract style, which explains why many people have referred to Brooker’s style as abstract impressionism. His work from this time demonstrates the soft, round lines from the 1930s combined with the harsh, sharp lines of Brooker’s work from the 50s.

In the 1950s, Brooker’s style progresses further, becoming completely abstract and more complicated. Instead of representing concrete objects, it displays ideological concepts. The image, “Swing of Time” (1954, oil on canvas), uses geometric shapes and harsh lines to depict clocks and sundials, which represent the concepts of time and space. This is completely different than any of Brooker’s other work.

Although his style changes throughout the years, he’s consistent in two main things—the sense of movement in his paintings and his choice of colour for each work.

The movement in Brooker’s work is so apparent, it’s no wonder the exhibition is called It’s Alive! By playing with line and the visual focus, he’s able to create movement that is sure to capture your attention and draw your eyes in. I found it intriguing how movement is used in every image and how it seems to bring each one to life.

Pastels and pale, earthy tones were the choice of colour pallet for Brooker during his career as an artist. No matter what medium, time period or subject is used, the colours remain the same, which adds cohesion and connection to all of his pieces. There’s one exception to this, though.

The very last piece in the gallery, hanging alone on the wall beside the exit, is quite different than all the other pieces. I thought this piece to be strange, yet interesting. It’s unusual in a way that can only be described as ‘Seussical’ with its bright colours and atypical landscape. It’s appropriately named “Untitled (landscape)” (undated, oil on canvas).

The only complaint I have about the exhibition is the arrangement of Brooker’s paintings within the gallery. A gallery should be arranged in a logical fashion, so that the viewer will understand and follow as they traverse the room. I’m sure whoever hung them had their reasons for placing each image in its particular spot, but to me, their order seemed random and nonsensical. There was no flow or connection between subsequent images which, through careful arrangement, could have been avoided.

Looking closer at each painting and the corresponding dates, it seemed the best way to organize Brooker’s work would have been to put it in chronological order. This would allow viewers to see the captivating progression and transformation of the artist’s work over the 30-year time period.

Regardless, Brooker’s work draws the viewer in through both the obvious transformation in style over time and the intriguing use of movement and colour. No doubt, this display, which is brought to life through these elements, is unique and thought-provoking.

It’s Alive! Bertram Brooker and Vitalism is on display at Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Mar. 7.
Admission is free for students and $4 for the general public.

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