Gershon Iskowitz (1921-1988)
“My paintings are not abstract, they are real, they are very very much real, I see those things…I paint what I see.”
Born in 1921 in the village of Kielce, Poland, Gershon Iskowitz had a keen interest in art since early childhood. He was accepted to study at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art in 1939, but never attended, due to the Nazi invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. Instead, Iskowitz was sent to a Nazi labour camp and later to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He barely survived six years of internment, losing his parents and siblings in the Holocaust. Throughout his imprisonment, Iskowitz managed to sketch secretly at night, documenting the horrors of life and death in the concentration camps. After the liberation in April 1945, then aged 23, he was sent for recuperation to a hospital in Feldafing, near Munich. Iskowitz said that he attended the Munich Academy of Art in 1947, and received private instruction from Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka, which his biographer was not able to verify. In 1949 he immigrated to Canada, settling in Toronto. Gershon Iskowitz’s post-war work was mainly figurative and strongly influenced by his horrific experiences during the Holocaust. During the mid-1960s, however, his art underwent a dramatic transformation. A helicopter trip to Churchill, Manitoba, left a lasting impression on him. From the aircraft he saw countless lakes glistening in the sunlight. This experience became the main inspiration for his art for the rest of his life. Until his death in 1988 Iskowitz produced large formatted abstracts in luminous colours, inspired by the unique Northern Canadian landscape and the light reflections on the water‘s surface that he had observed on this memorable flight. In 1972 Gershon Iskowitz represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. He became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1974 and in 1977 was awarded a medal in honor of the Queen’s silver jubilee. He established the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, in associated with the Canada Council for the Arts. His work is collected by the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and other major Canadian institutions.
Aerial photograph of Churchill, Manitoba, 1966.
 Holubizky, Ihor. Gershon Iskowitz: Life & Work. Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2019, p. 9