Born in Moldavia in what is now northwestern Romania, Etrog, who is Jewish, managed to survive the Second World War and immigrated along with his family to Israel in 1950. In Israel, he studied drawing, painting, sculpture, graphic design, and theater set design at the Tel Aviv Art Institute.
Early Life, Education, and Career
Born in Moldavia in what is now northwestern Romania, Etrog, who is Jewish, managed to survive the Second World War and immigrated along with his family to Israel in 1950. In Israel, he studied drawing, painting, sculpture, graphic design, and theater set design at the Tel Aviv Art Institute. His first exhibit in 1958 in Tel Aviv helped win him a scholarship to study at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. In 1959, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum purchased one of his early sculptures. It was during this period in New York that Etrog met his long-standing collector and patron, Samuel Zacks, leading to his first solo exhibition in Canada at Gallery Moos in Toronto. Etrog moved to Toronto is 1963, became a Canadian citizen. And was one of the three artists who represented Canada at the 1966 Venice Biennale, alongside Alex Colville and Yves Gaucher.
Etrog’s style is deeply indebted to both surrealism and Pablo Picasso’s work of the 1930s, as well as to major 20th century sculptors like Romanian-born modernist Constantin Brancusi and American abstract-expressionist David Smith. While much of Etrog’s work appears abstract, it almost invariably at least alludes to the figure and more specifically to the human form. Etrog’s overriding theme is the integrity of the human body in an industrialized world, and thus his sculptures typically consist of elaborately interlocking parts that resemble the elements of a machine. In Ariana (Big Queen) (1961-1963), for instance, a widening shaft rises from a pedestal and bursts into curving forms that resemble shoulders and a head. In another work in bronze, Don Giovanni (1967), knotted shapes rise into rough, rectangular wing-like shapes, eventually curving up to a triangle that stands in for a head.
While Etrog’s finest work is sculptural and in bronze – he works directly with plaster models, allowing him to give even large sculptures an intimate sense of detail and texture – he is also an accomplished painter and draughtsman. Etrog has typically used painting and drawing as a testing ground for ideas he then develops into larger sculptures. In Vladimir and Estragon (Waiting for Godot) (1967) – the title refers to the two main characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot – giant hands interlock with faceless heads inlaid with rings and bolts. Two Haitian Women (Homage to Gaugin) (1968/69), a painting in oil on Masonite in tribute to the great 19thh century French painter Paul Gaugin, consists of schematic figures facing each other built up out of interlocking wrenches, the colours cool blue-greys and smouldering reds.
Etrog has received numerous major public commissions, including Expo 67, Montreal; SunLife Centre, Toronto; Windsor Sculpture Garden, Windsor, Ontario; Los Angeles County Museum; and Olympic Park in Seoul Korea. For the Pavilion of Canada at Expo 67, he created Flight (1967), which features a pair of wings sprouting from a dense knot of forms and twin heads hovering above. Dreamchamber (1976), located on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, consists of large interlocking wedges of bronze that resemble a brain split open for view. Sun Life (1984), set in front of the Sun Life Financial Centre in downtown Toronto, is, on the other hand, more purely abstract, with rectangular bars jutting sharply from a circular base like rays of sunlight.
In addition to his work as a painter and sculptor, Etrog has published poetry, plays, and non-fiction, including the books Dream Chamber: Joyce and the Dada Circus – a collage (1982) and The Kite (1984). He did book illustrations for Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. He also collaborated with Marshall McLuhan on the publication of Spiral in 1976, a book interweaving still images from his 1975 film of the same name with quotes from a wide variety of writers.