Bertram Brooker, Striving, c.1930
Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 60.9 cm
This incredibly vivid canvas is far removed from companion pieces made by Brooker during the same period, as in
, 1928, and Sounds Assembling , 1929, because of the presence of the semi-human figure that hurls itself across the canvas in a robotic way, embodying the notion of striving, and demanding the viewer’s attention. Alleluiah
Bertram Brooker, The Dawn of Man, 1927, oil on canvas, 113 x 81.3 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Head of Baudelaire, 1911, terracotta, 39.1 x 21.3 x 25.3 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Placed in the foreground of the image, the humanoid has a ghostly presence. Its softer, circular forms contrast with the much more solid horizontal passages behind it
. The result, like the earlier The Dawn of Man, 1927 (Brooker’s first use of a humanoid figure) dramatizes the struggle of a human being to achieve completeness. Dennis Reid has demonstrated that the figure in The Dawn of Man was influenced by the French sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876–1918) . He also points out that Brooker visited New York City regularly after he had settled in Toronto and that in January 1929 he visited the memorial exhibition of Duchamp-Villon at the Brummer Gallery there. Brooker’s friends Harold and Ruth Tovell owned a terracotta version of Duchamp-Villon’s Head of Baudelaire, 1911, which was clearly a model for the figure in Dawn. However the figure in Striving is substantially more vigorous and visually interesting than the placid one in the earlier painting.
The insertion of human-like figures into
Striving and The Dawn of Man was a departure from earlier content, and not an entirely successful one. Roald Nasgaard even claims that these two canvases are not really very abstract at all: he characterizes them as showing “[in the] foreground streamlined humanoid figures bound in some rapt spiritualized relation to simplified landscapes that lay beyond. ” Certainly in Striving the (somewhat) representational device is not perfectly integrated into what is primarily an abstract painting: the two styles seem discordant. In later work, the artist would meld the two modes of depicting reality more successfully.