Artwork by Gershon Iskowitz,  Spring Yellows - B

Gershon Iskowitz
Spring Yellows - B

oil on canvas
signed, titled and dated 1982 on the reverse
39 x 34 ins ( 99.1 x 86.4 cms )

Sold for $18,400.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Provenance:
Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
Literature:
David Burnett, Iskowitz, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1982, page 72
Adele Freedman, Gershon Iskowitz: Painter of Light, Toronto/Vancouver, 1982, pages 132 and 148
Peter Mellen, Landmarks of Canadian Art, Toronto, 1978, page 240
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Toronto/Vancouver, 2007, page 244
Dennis Reid, A Concise History of Canadian Painting, third edition, Toronto, 2012, page 375
Upon immigrating to Canada after the Second World War, Iskowitz was heavily influenced by the Canadian landscape in his abstract works. Rather than rendering the land in traditional landscape art, the artist instead expressed this inspiration through the abstraction of bright contrasting forms. Often employing bright yellow, greens and blues, Iskowitz accentuated the contrast with layered white pigments that produced an ethereal cloud-like quality. Dennis Reid describes the artist’s process: “Iskowitz worked only at night under artificial light, in oils...He would build up a picture slowly, applying a colour, then when it had dried, applying another over it, leaving only parts of the previous layers exposed, thinly veiling others, or obscuring some parts entirely....” Not by coincidence, this aesthetic can be linked back to the artist's experience granted by the Canada Council to view the northern landscape by helicopter in 1967.

In “Spring Yellows - B” the viewer experiences the abstract composition as if from an aerial vantage point with the veil of white pigments opening to allow the coloured landscape below to be viewed. Iskowitz comments, “...the experience, out in the field, of looking up in the trees or in the sky, of looking down from the height of a helicopter. So what you try to do is make a composition of all those things, make some kind of reality...That's painting.”

In 1982, Freedman writes how over the past decade of his artistic production, Iskowitz's accents “have become more marked and their tone more confident and direct. They are about his excitement of discovering a new blue...a fresh nuance or shape.”

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Gershon Iskowitz
(1920/21 - 1988) RCA

Born in Kielce, Poland, in either 1920 or 1921, Gershon Iskowitz immigrated to Canada in 1948 after surviving three Nazi concentration camps. As a child, Iskowitz had an aptitude for art. He created advertisements for his local movie theatre in a section of his family’s living room that his father portioned off to create a small studio. In 1939, he was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw but returned home only a few days after he began due to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Initially placed in the Kielce Ghetto, once liquidated Iskowitz was imprisoned in concentration camps throughout Poland and Germany. While he continued to make drawings during this period only two survive: Condemned (1944-46) and Buchenwald (1944-45). Upon liberation, he lived in the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp and audited courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

Upon receiving a temporary travel document from the Military Government for Germany, issued to stateless people, Iskowitz traveled to Canada via the United States in 1948 where his extended family greeted him at Union Station in Toronto. Until 1954, Iskowitz’s paintings focused on memories from his imprisonment. In the same year, he was included in the Canadian Society of Graphic Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) alongside Painters Eleven artist Oscar Cahén. Iskowitz submitted Barracks (1949) and Buchenwald, both priced at $300––the most expensive in the exhibition. Iskowitz earned his first solo exhibition in 1957 at Hayter Gallery in Toronto, however there is no record of what was shown in the gallery.

By the 1960s Iskowitz’s style transformed from gestural to abstract. He became interested in exploring the Canadian landscape rather than his wartime memories during this period. After exhibiting at Gallery Moos in October 1964, for the first time, Iskowitz formed a close relationship with the owner, Walter Moos. Moos managed Iskowitz’s career and finances from this point forward. Throughout the 1960s, Izkowitz participated in numerous solo shows throughout Ontario at locations such as the University of Waterloo, the Cedarbrae Branch of the Toronto Public Library, and at the University of Toronto. In the late 1960s, Iskowitz held a teaching position at the New School of Art in Toronto. After receiving a Canada Council grant in 1967 he flew to Churchill, Manitoba. Entranced by areal views he saw while in flight, Iskowitz began incorporating this perspective into his art.

Iskowitz was selected to represent Canada alongside Walter Redinger at the Venice Biennale in 1972 where he displayed four of these areal diptychs. In 1982, the AGO put on a retrospective exhibition of Iskowitz’s life work. At the time, it was uncommon for the AGO to show retrospectives of living artists, asserting his prominence as a Canadian artist. The exhibition traveled to Windsor, Montreal, London, Ont., Calgary, and then to Canada House in London, England. After the retrospective exhibition had concluded, Iskowitz set up a foundation that would provide financial support to artists through an annual monetary prize, with assistance from Moos.

Literature Source: Ihor Holubizky, Gershon Iskowitz: Life and Work. Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2018 (https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/gershon-iskowitz)

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.