"I have been asked many times why I dedicate myself so completely to painting - I do it because I must. Life has meaning to me only through my work. My interest in life is based on my art and it is the connection I have with reality."
Norman Leibovitch first became known in the province of Quebec during the 1940’s following a string of highly praised solo exhibitions. A contemporary and acquaintance of renowned Montreal artists such as Louis Muhlstock, Moe Reinblatt and Sam Borenstein, Leibovitch's work has been shown across North America in major cities such as Montreal, Toronto and New York.
In his first posthumous exhibition, being held at the Galerie d'art d'Outremont from August 17, 2004 through September 3, 2004, the public is invited to a rare viewing of more than 60 oil paintings covering the artist’s early career until his death in 2002.
Leibovitch studied as a scholarship student at the American Artist School in New York City, and later at the New York Art Students League under the famous sculptor William Zorach. As a Montreal native, however, the artist chose to return to his home city where he worked prolifically, resulting in a present day collection of over 1,000 paintings. He is most recognized for his large scale female nudes, Quebec landscapes and paintings depicting Jewish themes.
Leibovitch’s gestural brush strokes, use of texture and striking choice of colour fill his paintings with a vitality that is strikingly modern for a Canadian painter trained in the 1930’s. During the 1940’s, while many Quebec artists looked to Europe, particularly the trends of Paris, for inspiration, Leibovitch travelled to Mexico and Israel to broaden his artistic experience. His use of form, line and colour evolved over the decades, and although at times his figurative work leans more towards the abstract, he never completely gave into abstraction, allowing his subjects to remain the focus of his works.
Although Leibovitch was highly regarded amongst his peers and critics, as a result of his extremely private and stubborn nature, he refused to publicly show his work for most of the 1950’s and again in the 1970’s. Nonetheless, during these periods he worked steadily and there exists hundreds of canvases that have yet to be viewed by the public. The last retrospective of his work was held in 1980, and so it is with great pleasure that the Galerie d'art d'Outremont is honoured to reintroduce the works of this accomplished Montreal artist.
Written by Malcah Sussman, August 2004, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Born in Montreal in 1913 of a family of modest means he developed at an early age an interest in drawing, amusing himself and his school chums with caricatures and other diversions. It was not until the age of twenty however, that he committed himself to the life of an artist.
In 1936 he studied in New York at the American Peoples School under Carl Nelson, at the American Artists School and later in 1937 at the Arts Students League, where he distinguished himself as a scholarship student of the noted sculptor, William Zorach.
Returning to Montreal in 1938, he set about his vocation, opening his first solo exhibition at La Galerie l’Art Français in February, 1945. The show was well received and the Gazette’s critic of the day noted that “he paints with directness and force that his composition is generally effective and his handling of architectural forms is marked by summary freedom.”
He traveled in Mexico during the winter of 1946, returning with numerous paintings which were exhibited along with Quebec scenes and figurative works in a comprehensive exhibition at the College Jean Brébeuf. Again, critics spoke of the quality and the promise of his works.
His first major exhibition on the international scene was a selection of twenty two oils, shown at the Norlyst Gallery in New York in February 1948. The Herald Tribune’s critic described his work, particularly the landscapes as “forceful and expressive,” noting one Quebec scene as possessing “A poetic quality painted with vivacity and brilliance.” Similarly, the writers of Art News and the Art Digest praised many of his subjects. In order to select the pieces for this New York exhibition, which he considered no small honor, he devised a unique preview of some sixty works and invited Montreal’s art community to comment on them. This period also included exhibitions at the Little Gallery in Winnipeg and group shows in Montreal and Toronto.
In 1948, Leibovitch journeyed to Israel which he later identified as a watershed year. He described his experience as an “inspiration” and it commenced one of the most fruitful periods of his life. Returning to Montreal with considerable new material, he began to exhibit many of his Israeli subjects, notably his show of 1950 at the Collège Jean Brébeuf, and in 1951 at the West End Gallery. Both exhibitions were very highly regarded.
There followed a period of about a decade in which he experimented extensively with figural subjects and various degrees of abstraction, and though his input was characteristically steady, he was reluctant to exhibit. His work of that period ranges from violent impressions to meticulous figures including landscapes, abstract expressionism and Hebraic themes.
He returned to exhibiting in 1962, with important shows at Toronto’s Upstairs Gallery and the Penthouse in Westmount – again the Montreal critics were enthusiastic in their praise and encouragement. During the years from 1963-1980, Leibovitch took a further hiatus from exhibiting but continued to paint. Then Leibovitch began to exhibit his works again in the 1980’s and he continued to paint until his death in 2002.
Solo and Group Exhibitions
2004 Galerie d’Art d’Outremont, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1984 Paintings, Downstairs Gallery, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1981 Colbert Gallery, Montreal.
1980 Norman Leibovitch: a survey 1945-1980, Empire Industries Inc., Montreal, solo exhibition.
1962 Upstairs Gallery, Toronto, solo exhibition.
The Penthouse Gallery, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1961 An Exhibition of Nudes, Sobot Gallery, Toronto, solo exhibition.
1951 Paintings of Israel, West End Art Gallery, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1950 An Exposition of Landscapes, Wiseman Studio, Montreal, solo exhibition.
College Jean de Brebeuf, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1948 The Norlyst Gallery, New York, solo exhibition.
1947 College Jean de Brebeuf, Montreal, solo exhibition. Little Gallery, Winnipeg.
1945 Exhibition of Paintings by Norman Leibovitch, The Arts Club, Montreal, solo exhibition.
Landscapes, Galerie l’Art Français, Montreal, solo exhibition.
1944 Adventures in Art, Eaton’s Fine Art Galleries.
Gallery Representation/ Représentation en galerie d’art
2003 – present La Galerie Kastel Inc., Montreal.
1988 Chai Montreal, television interview with the artist by Lisa Winston, cable 24, Montreal, Monday, February 1.
Reviews / Media
1962 Field, Saul, “Norman Leibovitch – a Stubborn Spirit”, Congress Bulletin, Montreal, March, vol.16:no.3, p.7.
Jasmin, Claude, “Leibovitch Nouvelle Manière”, La Presse, Montreal, September 1, p.5.
1951 Aaron, Ivan, “Around the Galleries”, The Gazette, Montreal, Monday, December 3.
1950 Verdurin, Paul, “Exposition de paysages du peintre Norman Leibovitch”, La Press, Montreal, Saturday, March 11.
1948 “L’artiste montréalais Norman Leibovitch”, l’Echo du Nord, Friday, January 16.
“Leibovitch of Canada”, The Art Digest, January 15.
New York Herald Tribune, New York, Sunday, January 11.
“Norlyst Gallery”, New York Sun, New York, January.
“Norman Leibovitch”, Art News, February.
Werner, Alfred, “Canadian Artist Hailed in New York, Congress Bulletin, Montreal, February, p.10, 24.
“Young Montreal Artist Holding NY Exhibition”, Montreal Standard, Montreal.
1947 Gagnon, François, “Paysages étranges, portraits, satires”, La Presse, Montreal, April 30.
La Salle, Gabriel, “Peinture mexicaine”, Le Canada.
“Leibovitch Art on Display at College Jean de Brebeuf”, The Herald, Montreal, May 5.
“Leibovitch Showing Paintings of Mexico” The Gazette, Montreal.
“Mexican Scenes in Exhibition”, Daily Star, Montreal.
“Norman Leibovitch to Show in New York”, The Gazette, Montreal.
“Peinture canadienne”, Le Devoir, April 30.
1945 “Bonne éxposition à l’art français”, La Presse, Montreal, February 20.
Delisle, Jacques, “Norman Leibovitch”, Le Devoir, Montreal, February 20.
“N. Leibovitch Shows work at l’Art Français”, The Gazette, Montreal, February 20.
1934 “Ordeal in Drifting Canoe Turns Youth into Artist”, Toronto Daily Star, Toronto, June 8, p.1,3.
Related Activities/ Activités connexes
1947 Caricature portaits of the College Jean de Brebeuf graduating class /
Caricatures de la classe finissante du Collège Jean de Brebeuf. Published in the journal /
Publiées dans le journal : Brebeuf, Montreal, June 1947, Vol XIV : no.9, p.2-7.