GERSHON ISKOWITZ, R.C.A.
Private Collection, Toronto
Nancy Tousley, "Joyous paintings belie artist's harrowing past," Calgary Herald, Thurs, Nov.11, 1982, F3.
This large-scale oil on canvas by one of Canada’s most acclaimed landscape abstractionists is as striking a work as any that can be found in the Gershon Iskowitz (1921-1988) oeuvre. Hailing from the early 1980s Night series when the expressive potential of colour was employed in lively compositions of serpentine forms, singular dabs of bright pigment and a patterned ground of mottled colour, Night Reds-A is memorable for its inspired mood bordering on the ecstatic. A confident assertion by a painter who then was only a year away from a forty year retrospective (1982) organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Iskowitz would tour to five other Canadian cities and Canada House Gallery, London, England.
By the time the Night Reds-A was completed - painted as all works were at night in his Toronto Spadina Avenue studio – the basic elements of his signature style had been established. These included patches of floating colour converging, coalescing and drifting apart in compositions often compared to “the sensation of looking through a shifting surface of clouds at colours and lights below.” This according to Calgary Herald art critic Nancy Tousley writing in response to the artist’s AGO retrospective.
Of course, the inspiration for all of this was Iskowitz’s bi-annual flights over the vastness of the Northwest Territories, James Bay and Churchill: begun in 1968 with the help of a Canada Council grant. The result was the development of a kind of dematerialized landscape, which transcended its formalist and abstract language of colour, shape and light into a highly personal and independent vision of Canada’s northern terrain. As a second-generation Toronto abstractionist, his oils and watercolours also surprised because they were far from the icier and starker interpretations in Canadian art such as Lawren Harris or even A.Y. Jackson.
Iskowitz was a cross-over figure in Canadian art who perhaps found some sort of salvation in the Canadian landscape after a bleaker period of art in the 1950s which drew upon the Polish-born artist’s six long years in German concentration camps. He gave back to his new homeland not only with works like Night Reds-A but also with the Gershon Iskowitz Prize – one of the most important visual art prizes in Canada.