CGP CSGA CSPWC OSA RCA
1888 - 1955
oil on canvas, circa 1937
signed and on verso titled, inscribed "Hart House Nov/37" / "Vic" / "OC51", numbered 71137 on the Art Gallery of Ontario inventory label and stamped with the Bertram Brooker estate stamp
36 1/4 x 30 1/4 in, 92.1 x 76.8 cm
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000 CAD
Sold for: $55,250
Estate of the Artist
Private Collection, Toronto
Hart House, University of Toronto, Bertram Brooker, November 1937
Among the most adventurous Canadian painters of his generation, Bertram Brooker was also thoroughly steeped in the world of print. His Dostoyevskian novel Think of the Earth (1936) was the inaugural recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Literary Merit in 1937—the same year Hot Weather premiered in an exhibition at Hart House.
As editor and publisher of Marketing magazine from 1924 to 1927, the multidisciplinary artist had proposed synesthetic approaches to advertising copy and layout that mirrored his contemporaneous production of musically inspired abstract canvases. The latter were exhibited in Canada’s first one-person show of non-objective art, at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club in 1927. The disappointing reception of that groundbreaking event, coupled with the uncertainties of the Great Depression, encouraged Brooker’s turn to representation in 1929.
Brooker’s dreamlike canvas portrays a young man, stripped to the waist, absorbed in the act of reading. Hot Weather epitomizes the synthesis of abstract and naturalistic modes that Brooker had honed by the mid-1930s in such works as Blue Nude (1937). In common with Blue Nude, the central figure in Hot Weather is dissected by a geometric lattice that nods to the Synthetic Cubism of Georges Braque. In a 1949 address to Hart House, Brooker observed approvingly, “Braque takes the commonest things and transfigures them by the grandeur of his imagination.” In Hot Weather, Brooker draws the viewer into the imaginative world of his sitter by means of auratic emanations that seem to manifest his overheated thoughts. Echoing the contours of his head, these wavelike forms conjure the dynamic rhythms that were said to animate the cosmos according to vitalist philosophers such as Henri Bergson, an important inspiration to Brooker from at least the early 1920s.
In The Brave Voices, a book-length manuscript left unpublished at the time of his death, Brooker interprets Bergson’s élan vital, or vital impetus, as a form of sexual energy. The fluid emanations of Hot Weather communicate the same insight, as the contour of the sitter’s right ear progressively morphs into the seductive profile of a woman’s silhouette. This device is equally revelatory of the erotically charged content of the figure’s reading material, whose shocking red cover may reference Bernarr Macfadden’s eye-catching Redbook magazine. The indications of a portrait on its back cover notably recall the black-chapeaued cover girls that graced numerous issues of Redbook in the early to mid-1930s. The fleshy indications of bodies that break up the page open to the viewer’s gaze are likewise suggestive of the two-tone illustrations that frequently accompanied the romantic fiction published by Redbook and related magazines in this period. This detail simultaneously alludes to the high-profile censorship of one of Brooker’s own nudes earlier in the 1930s. Significantly, Brooker himself contributed an anti-censorship tract to another Macfadden-published magazine, Photoplay. In Hot Weather, the glossy finish of the magazine held by the sitter teasingly obstructs the beholder’s access to its illustrated content.
Brooker’s careful rendering of text and image in Hot Weather recalls his earlier analyses in the advertising textbook Layout Technique in Advertising (1929) and clears a path for the artist’s subsequent lyrical representations of printed matter in Paper Reflections (1940) and Silver Log (1952). Several commentators have noted that Brooker’s search for cosmic patterns in popular media anticipated the speculations of fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan, who wrote in The Mechanical Bride (1951) that, “To the alerted eye, the front page of a newspaper…can lead the mind to attend to cosmic harmonies of a very high order.”
Hot Weather was painted on the eve of World War II, as publications such as The Canadian Forum—to which Brooker was a regular contributor—adopted red covers in sympathy with Republican Spain. Brooker here responds with an ode to the liberating potential of pulp fiction. His vitalist substitution of a Redbook-like magazine for contemporaneous political pamphlets foreshadows the 1960s’ countercultural slogan “Make love, not war.”
We thank Adam Lauder, PhD, an art historian based in Toronto and an instructor at the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Art and Design, for contributing the above essay.
1. Bertram Brooker, “Painting Verbs,” in Sounds Assembling: The Poetry of Bertram Brooker, ed. Birk Sproxton (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1980), 37.
2. Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard, 1951), 4.
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000 CAD
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