Eli Bornstein (b.1922) occupies a unique place in the story of modern art in Canada. For some seven decades he has devoted his artistic career to working with abstract three-dimensional works, or Structurist Reliefs, as he has dubbed them. These reliefs, unlike flat paintings, are multicoloured objects that extend into the world, their appearances changing with the play of light and shadow and with the onlooker’s viewpoint. Simultaneously, Bornstein has always rooted his art in an intense study of the phenomena of nature.


In Eli Bornstein: Life & Work, Roald Nasgaard traces the story of Bornstein’s career, starting from his youth in Milwaukee, Minnesota, and his permanent move to Saskatoon in 1950. He explores how the artist—while navigating the major modernist movements from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism to Constructivism and De Stijl—became one of the first in Saskatoon’s then-conservative cultural circles to engage with abstract art. Readers are taken through Bornstein’s passion for the prairie terrain, his travels to Europe and in North America, and eventually his two journeys to the Canadian Arctic in the 1980s. Out of the Arctic came a series of grand multiplane reliefs that stand as the most sublime work of his long career.


“Bornstein’s work has always been dedicated to the vitality of nature. He early defined himself as a “builder” who broke new ground when he constructed his first abstract reliefs. Exploring their interplay of geometric three-dimensional form, colour, and light, he found new ways to reinvent and re-evoke our experience of the wonders of natural phenomena.”
Roald Nasgaard


A steadfast student of the modernist tradition, Eli Bornstein was a singular innovator. He was also a prolific writer and a skilled editor whose influential periodical The Structurist was published and distributed internationally from 1960 to 2020. Neither strictly a painter nor a sculptor, Bornstein may stand as something of a loner in the history of Canadian art. But he stands equally as an artist of major ambition and distinctive aesthetic achievement.



Roald Nasgaard is a teacher, writer, and curator. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Abstract Painting in Canada (2008). His more recent curatorial work includes Mystical Landscapes: From Vincent van Gogh to Emily Carr, which opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2016 and travelled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris; and Higher States: Lawren Harris and His American Contemporaries, which opened at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in 2017 and later toured. His monograph on Quebec artist Charles Gagnon is forthcoming in 2025.

Download Download