1933 - 2014
Romanian born artist Sorel Etrog was a renowned contemporary sculptor, a member of the Order of Canada (1994) and the designer of the Genie Award, the statuette having originally been named the Etrog Award. Etrog lived and worked prolifically in Toronto for 54 years, where his works of public art are found in profusion. Also a writer and philosopher, Etrog was awarded Chevalier dans L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1996.
Etrog was born in Iasi, Romania in 1933, where he and his Jewish family suffered persecution from both the Soviets and the Nazis. After surviving World War II, they immigrated to Israel in 1950. Etrog studied at the Tel Aviv Institute of Painting and Sculpture, holding his first exhibition there in 1958. Success in this show won Etrog a scholarship to New York, where he studied at the Brooklyn Museum and had the great fortune to sell a work to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1959. He met Toronto collectors Samuel and Ayala Zacks at this time, and through them was connected to Gallery Moos in Toronto, where Etrog found a good reception for his work. This induced him to move to Toronto in 1963 and become a Canadian citizen. In 1966 he was selected to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale along with Alex Colville and Yves Gaucher. Etrog was highly influential in Toronto's contemporary cultural scene, collaborating as an illustrator with Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, and on the experimental film Spiral with Marshall McLuhan in 1975 and 1976. He wrote plays, poetry and non-fiction in addition to his work as a painter, printmaker, film maker and draughtsman, yet he is best known for his large-scale work in bronze. Etrog's influences include Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi and the movement of Surrealism; his work is often grounded in the figure and refers to themes of industrialization and mechanization, and how they relate to the abstracted human form. In his large format works, he conveys a feeling of sensitive detail and fine texture that belies the scale of the works.
In addition to Etrog's well known public commissions in Toronto, his works dot a map of Canada with equal frequency. Public collections are also major repositories of his work, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim, the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Tate Gallery in London. From his studio in the Tip Top Tailors building in Toronto, Etrog cast many of his small maquettes for well-known commissions into larger works, as demand from collectors was so strong. His vast, impactful career was the subject of a major retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013, the year before his death at the age of 80. The Sorel Etrog sculpture garden, dedicated to promoting well being through art, opened at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto in 2015.