Artwork by Sorel Etrog,  Sunbird II

Sorel Etrog
Sunbird II

stamped signature and edition (4/6) on the base
20 x 8 x 8 ins ( 50.8 x 20.3 x 20.3 cms ) ( overall (including base) )

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Private Collection, Florida
Pierre Restany, “Sorel Etrog”, New York, pages 15 and 61
Revered as one of Canada’s great multi-faceted artists, Sorel Etrog’s prolific body of work has left an indelible mark on the sculptural lexicon within Canadian art history. Expanding upon the modern abstract forms, Etrog then moved to represent anthropomorphic configurations in his bronze sculptural works of the early 1960s. Produced in 1963, “Sunbird II” typifies two important developments in the artist’s maturation from the late 1950s throughout his most prolific periods. Etrog explains:

“Two important developments were taking place in my sculpture regarding the relationship between mass and weight and the base. I wanted to be free to use large masses or weights without them sinking into or flattening on to the base...The first development was the standing figure...the second development, for the more abstract works, was a ‘wheel’ in contact with the base (”Sunbird”, later “Survivors are Not Heroes”, “Sunlife” etc.). This has a kind of cradle movement, giving the impression of weightlessness, and the optical illusion is that they are balanced and stand on their own, independent of the base.”

With the ‘wheel’ form in contact with the base of the sculpture, a natural tension is developed between the solid undulating form and the delicate rest of the wheel upon the base, taking the weight of the work in its entirety. For Etrog, space and movement was paramount in his works. The eye moves around “Sunbird II”, following the bronze curves and resting in the negative space created between the elements of the sculpture. The work invites the viewer to explore the space in and around the form, and to examine the organic and geometric shapes, while considering the point of departure and final return.

This important work by Etrog is represented by larger versions of the sculpture in collections at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Palm Springs Museum. In Reviers, Normandy, the 7-foot bronze work was installed in 1994 at a town square named Place du Canada, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Normandy by Canadian Forces.

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Sorel Etrog
(1933 - 2014) RCA

Based in Toronto for more than fifty years, Sorel Etrog was born in Iasi, Romania, in 1933. He is most well-known as a sculptor, but he also illustrated books, painted, and wrote poetry, plays, and films. His sculptures were influenced by his adolescence spent under Soviet rule and an interest in philosophical writings that questioned the nature of post-war society. He was also inspired by his grandfather who was a carpenter. Etrog, along with his parents and sister attempted to flee Romania in 1946 but were caught. His parents were then imprisoned for several weeks. Finally, Etrog and his family left Romania in 1950 and made it to the Sha’ar Aliyaa refugee camp near Haifa, Israel.

While serving mandatory time in the Israel Defense Forces’ medical corps in 1953 he began studying art at Tel Aviv’s Arts Institute for Painting and Sculpture. Inspired by Cubist collage and modernist music, he created three-dimensional paintings, mimicking constructivist reliefs. In 1958, he received a scholarship to attend school at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School.

Upon arrival in New York City, Etrog became drawn to African and Oceanic art due to their expressive shapes and began incorporating these elements into his work. While trying to find gallery representation in New York City, Samuel J. Zachs purchased one of Etrog’s paintings and invited Etrog to spend the summer of 1959 in Southampton on Lake Huron with him. While in Southampton, Etrog created his first wooden sculptures and gained gallery representation from Gallery Moos in Toronto. This encounter inspired the young artist to apply for Canadian citizenship and eventually move to Toronto in 1963.

In his mature sculptural works, Etrog explores spontaneous symbols, primal elements and the relationship between form and symbol. The artist described his art as "tension created by pulling together and pulling apart, with being stuck and being freed, a world of grabbing and holding on and losing hold...bringing shapes together but at the same time giving each an independence."

After immigrating to Canada, Etrog had his first traveling exhibition in 1965. The show began at Gallery Moos, then traveled to New York City, Los Angeles, and Montreal. In 1966, Etrog, alongside Yves Gaucher and Alex Colville, represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. He later received several important commissions, including those for Expo ’67, Montreal; SunLife Centre, Toronto; Windsor Sculpture Garden, Windsor, Ontario; Los Angeles County Museum, and Olympic Park in Seoul, Korea. Before his death in 2014, Etrog’s art was included in a retrospective at Buschlen Mowatt in Vancouver in 2003.

Literature Sources:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977

Mikulinsky, Alma, “Sorel Etrog: Life and Work,” Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2018

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.