Iskowitz, Gershon

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ISKOWITZ, GERSHON (1921–1988), Canadian painter. Iskowitz was born in Kielce, Poland. He registered at the Warsaw Academy of Art in 1939. With the German invasion of Poland, he was put to forced labor. In 1942, his parents and sister were taken to Treblinka. A year later, he and his brother were transported to Auschwitz. In the fall of 1944, he was transferred to Buchenwald. Liberated on April 11, 1945, he was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. In 1947 he studied at the Munich Academy of Art and privately, for a short time, with Oskar Kokoschka. In September 1949 he emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. He held his first solo exhibition in Toronto in 1957.

Only a few of Iskowitz's early sketches recording life in the ghetto and the camps survived. His memories and the horrors of the war, however, remained a principal focus of his drawings into the 1950s. In 1952 Iskowitz began taking sketching trips into the countryside around Toronto. This work became the basis for the development of the dramatic, painterly abstract canvases for which he is best known, a direction that was confirmed on the first of several trips into the Canadian north; the first, by helicopter, was funded by a Canada Council grant. These large-scale abstractions, which begin with the perception of landscape, have been described as radiant and joyful expressions that transform the immediacy of vision into colored light.

Iskowitz exhibited regularly in Toronto; after 1964, with the Gallery Moos. He was one of two artists selected to represent Canada at the 1972 Venice Biennale. In 1982, the Art Gallery of Ontario held a major retrospective of his work. In 1985, he established the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation that continues to award an annual prize to experienced, professional Canadian artists.


A. Freeman, Gershon Iskowitz: Painter of Light (1982); D. Burnett, Iskowitz (1982).

[Joyce Zemans (2nd ed.)]