Born in Poland in 1921, Iskowitz exhibited artistic tendencies from an early age, and was encouraged by his family. His uncle submitted his portfolio to the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, but his plans were derailed by the Nazi invasion that same year. At the age of 18, in 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz, and two years on, to Buchenwald. He spent six years of his life in total in the prison camps, resourcefully scavenging drawing materials where ever he could, and sketching secretly late at night.
After liberation, Iskowitz convalesced in a hospital in Munich, and went on to enrol at the Munich Academy of Art, also receiving personal tuition from the established Expressionist Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka.
In 1949 he emigrated to Canada, though his initial application was rejected on account of his having had a limp. He reapplied, sending a drawing he drew for the bureaucrat in immigration. Impressed, the immigration officer declared him a genius, and predicted a great future for him in Canada, approved his emigration application and said that Gershon would have special privileges on the voyage to his new home. He settled in Toronto and began carving a successful career as an artist.
His work moved through several periods; initially figurative, narrative compositions inevitably haunted by his Holocaust experiences, into studies of the vast Canadian landscape, and finally, from 1967 when he began to examine the topography from the aerial vantage point of a helicopter, his work exploded into colourful, abstracted explorations in oil and watercolour - variously described as action paintings, abstract-expressionism and minimalism. His mature style defied categorisation within the schools and movements of the time.
In 1972 he represented Canada at the Venice Biennial. Two years later he was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy. In 1977 he was awarded a medal in honour of the Queen's silver jubilee. He would go on to establish the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, in associated with the Canada Council for the Arts. His work is held in numerous private and institutional collections, as well as Canada's National Collection.
On Wednesday 16 April, Gershon Iskowitz's oil 'Midnight #2' dated 1986 will be offered at auction in our sale of Contemporary & Post-War Art in Edinburgh.