Gershon Iskowitz, Untitled, 1977
Watercolour on paper, 42.8 x 56 cm
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
In 1977 and 1978 Gershon Iskowitz produced a large body of watercolour works, most of them untitled. He made this series by dropping paint onto dampened paper, creating ovoid blips and clusters of selected colours that float in ethereal groups on a neutral background. This process was careful and measured, to avoid overbleed (losing the shape) or muddying the strong chromatic patches. Whether lighter blue, green, and yellow as in this painting, or vivid reds, blues, and greens in the majority of them, they are jewel-like in their clarity and transparency and appear to move and flutter on the paper. The yellows may recede while the blues and greens protrude. No two of them are alike in composition, and as often in Iskowitz’s work, they reflect his “experience of the experience” in his painting practice.
The watercolours have strong affinities with the oil paintings, though they were created in a wholly different and equally disciplined way. With oils Iskowitz painted in layers, and he could add colour or adjust shapes over time. The watercolours, in contrast, could not be corrected later. But Iskowitz had much experience with watercolour, from his youth in Poland, through his war and memory paintings, to his Parry Sound works after 1955. Always, though, they were a separate and parallel part of his studio practice. His first series, Western Sphere, dates from 1969, and the images are larger than the untitled works.
The exact number of watercolours Iskowitz produced is unknown, but it could be well in the hundreds. Thirty of them are still held in the Iskowitz Foundation inventory, and dozens have been sold in the secondary auction market over the past fifteen years. In addition, Iskowitz produced one hundred smaller ones that were included in a deluxe, signed edition of Adele Freedman’s Gershon Iskowitz: Painter of Light (1982).