Sorel Etrog

Amidst the devastating aftermath of World War II, artist, writer, and philosopher Sorel Etrog created a consequential body of sculptural works that grapple with the fortitude and vulnerabilities of the human body in an increasingly mechanized world. Strongly influenced by fellow Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi, as well as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, Etrog transmuted his experiences of persecution as an Eastern European Jew into complex, monumental meditations on the human condition.

Born in Romania in 1933 to a Jewish family, Etrog’s youth was spent fleeing the Nazis and Soviets. The family immigrated to Israel in 1950, where Etrog enrolled at the Tel Aviv Art Institute. In 1958, he was awarded a scholarship to the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Though not immediately successful in New York, a chance encounter with Canadian businessman and collector Sam Zacks at the gallery of Rose Fried would set Etrog on his path to renown. Zacks, who purchased work from Etrog on the spot, invited him to live and work at his Canadian lake home during the summer of 1959. Here, 140 miles south of Toronto, Etrog made his first sculptures, began his entrée into Canadian art circles, and decided to apply for Canadian citizenship.

The discovery of bronze casting in 1960 was of major significance for Etrog, who adopted and adapted this traditional technique for the majority of his sculptural works from then onward. Etrog distinguished himself by developing his own process of plaster molding followed by lost-wax bronze casting, a self-guided procedure that allowed him to imbue even his most imposing sculptures with an intimate sense of detail and texture. This way of working brought added warmth to the alternately organic and industrial configurations found in Etrog’s compositions. As a testament to his mastery, Etrog was selected to design the statuette presented to winners at the Canadian Film Awards, known as the “Etrog” until 1980.

The tensions and concerns that Etrog cultivated in his sculpture parallel his less well-known collaborations with philosophical minds of the day, including illustrations for playwrights Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, as well as a film companion text with media theorist Marshall McLuhan. As Etrog’s biographer Alma Mikulinsky writes, such efforts “convey the profoundly human — and humane — aspects of an artist whose thoughts encompass sculptural and metaphorical considerations of connection, passage, relationship and continuity.” Etrog’s persistent interest in existentialist and absurdist philosophy directly informed his visual output, particularly in terms of the relationship(s) between humans and machine.

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