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Swing of Time 1954

Bertram Brooker, Swing of Time, 1954

Bertram Brooker, Swing of Time, 1954

Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 60.9 cm

The Estate of Bertram Brooker

In this canvas, completed the year before his death, the artist, in bad health, may well have been providing himself with a memento mori. The sundial, the metronome, the bell, and the hourglass are placed on top of a flesh-coloured clock face, perhaps suggesting a contrast between “objective time,” which can be measured, and “duration” à la Henri Bergson (1859–1941), which escapes easy classification.  The two profiles in the upper portion of the composition are rendered on what appears to be graph paper (another form of measuring); they may well represent historical individuals.    


This canvas is more philosophically dense than most of Brooker’s paintings. The viewer is being asked to put the various pieces of a surrealistically inspired jigsaw into place. How exactly do they fit together? The entire composition calls into question the nature of time and our place in it. Do human beings simply exist in time as material entities? Or is there the possibility we can be liberated from traditional concepts of time? Is there another dimension to existence? This painting crystallizes the questions Brooker asked during his entire career as an artist.    


Painted at the end of his life, Swing of Time is a fitting conclusion to Brooker’s career as an artist. Once again, he returns to the ideas about time of his spiritual mentor Bergson and, in a highly original blend of the abstract with a surrealist form of representation, he asks the viewer to enter a spiritual terrain linked to but ultimately separate from ordinary material existence.

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