Because of the majestic and intricate way that this painting takes the viewer into a mysterious realm, Sounds Assembling is often considered the most accomplished work by Bertram Brooker (1888–1955). It comes near the beginning of the extraordinarily productive period in the artist’s career, from 1927 to 1931, when he created a series of masterful abstract canvases unlike anything previously produced by a Canadian painter. Brooker, in part, may have been motivated to begin this series of paintings by his contacts within the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, especially Lawren Harris (1885–1970), who shared many interests with him.


Bertram Brooker, Sounds Assembling, 1928

Bertram Brooker, Sounds Assembling, 1928

Oil on canvas, 112.3 x 91.7 cm, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Brooker was trying to find a correlative of musical form in visual form, and in Sounds Assembling the various contrasting sounds have reached a moment of accord, although their individual differences are preserved. The painting’s composition gives the viewer a sense of movement and penetrating energy that is enhanced by the geometric exactness of the lines intruding into the four circular shapes that form the background.


It is possible the word “assembling” has a spiritual connotation: the convergence of the various colours may be like a congregation gathering for worship. As such, it can be said that this painting is spiritually as well as musically inspired.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Bertram Brooker: Life & Work by James King.

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