Gershon Iskowitz was born in Kielce, Poland, with an artist’s instinct and a father who nurtured his dreams. But the boy-artist’s world crashed around him with the onset of the Second World War. Nazis murdered his entire family and he was shuffled between concentration camps for the next six years. He claimed that he survived by drawing on scraps of paper in the night. Once liberated, Iskowitz persisted with his formal education in Munich, France, and Italy, and studied under Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka.
After immigrating to Canada in 1949, Iskowitz continued painting haunting wartime memories. In 1967, he was newly inspired when a Canada Council grant gave him the opportunity to take a helicopter trip over Manitoba. Soon after, he combined his formal studies with his amazement at the aerial views to create colourful and lively abstractions. By 1972, the trajectory of his oeuvre was becoming clear. During the 1970s, Iskowitz “let the curtain of dappled paint increasingly fill the expanse of his picture plane” and intensified his colours to heighten contrast.
By the time he painted Red G, Iskowitz was a nationally recognized artist. His success as a painter was a huge feat during a time when the art world was insisting that “painting was dead” and artists were being pressured to leave their oil paints behind. This, however, was not the first time that painting had been declared dead, and Iskowitz was wise to the power of time. He was dedicated to his practice and maintained the humble foresight that what his work would resonate with future artists. He said, “It’s very important to give something so the next generation can really believe in something. I think the artist works for himself for the most part. Every artist goes through stages of fear and love or whatever it is and has to fight day after day to survive like everyone else … We want to be good and belong. That goes through history; we’re striving for it.” When Iskowitz died, he left behind a world of hope, filled with his colourful paintings inspired by liberty and the Canadian landscape.
Iskowitz was one of two artists to represent Canada at the 1972 Venice Biennale. Ten years later, he was honoured with a major retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a version of this exhibition toured to London, England. His work is in the collections of nearly every major art museum in Canada.