Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1942, Roland Brener studied at Saint Martin's School of Art in England under Anthony Caro during the early 1960s. He taught at St Martin's, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and at the University of Iowa before joining the Visual Arts Department at the University of Victoria in 1973. His work was, and continues to be, exhibited broadly and in the early 1980s he represented Canada at the Venice Biennale and at the Bienal Internacional de Sao Paulo. His work can be found in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montreal, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. During his long career, he exhibited his sculptures in many important galleries, both private and public, in New York, Toronto, London, Venice, Tokyo and Chicago. He is also the creator of a large public work in Toronto at Radiocity Development.
- (from the UVic Obituary given by Mowry Baden)
Roland Brener was a highly innovative sculptor and influential educator during his forty-year career. His work is in major collections across Canada including the National Gallery of Canada, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. He represented Canada at the Biennale Internacional de São Paulo in 1987 and the Venice Biennale in 1988.
Though Brener was deeply interested in formalism, reflecting his studies with Anthony Caro, he is best known for art installations that engage the viewer in kinetic participation. Inspiration came from a wide range of sources: found objects, popular culture, social and political issues, technology, music, indigenous cultures (African, First Nations, Latin American), and sailing, to name a few.
After completing his artistic training at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, Brener taught at a number of prestigious institutions in England and the United States before being appointed as associate professor of photography and sculpture at the University of Victoria in 1973. He remained there until his retirement in 1999.
His artistic practice changed significantly over his two-and-a-half decades at UVic. He created installations and environments until the late 1970s which had strong conceptual elements that questioned high art’s values.
During the 1980s his work shifted back to the sculptural object, as he began to incorporate consumer items, often toys such as talking telephones, barking dogs and Teddy Ruxpin, and to experiment with kinetic sculpture driven by electronic motors or computers. In the 1990s he used the computer as a design tool to produce fantastical distortions of stock digital images and objects, which were then fabricated in wood or synthetic materials. Some of his work in the last decade of his life began to incorporate autobiography, referencing illness and death, as well as domesticity, family, and memories of his birthplace, South Africa.
His major contributions to the department included the development of the graduate program for international student applicants, strengthening the BFA program with more rigorous critiques, expanding the visiting artists program and introducing digital media coursework. Along with colleague Mowry Baden, he maintained an
international level of dialogue with their innovative practices.