An accomplished 20th century Jewish painter, Alfred Pinsky (1921-2000) was also an art education pioneer in Montreal and Canada. In the 1930s, Montreal’s Jewish community contributed considerable talent to Canadian painting. Pinsky’s contemporaries included artists such as Louis Mulhstock, Alexander Bercovitch, Sam Borenstein, Moe Reinblatt and Ghitta Caiserman. Marked by the social and economic upheavals of their time—including the Great Depression, the Second World War and the rise of socialism—they helped to define modern painting in Canada.
Pinsky began his artistic training as an assistant to the Montreal artist Anne Savage at Baron Byng High School. He also took classes at the Art Association of Montreal (today the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) and the Art Students League of New York. At the start of the Second World War, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and moved to Nova Scotia, where he became involved in the union movement. Back in Montreal in 1947, he and his wife Ghitta Caiserman (a prominent Montreal painter and daughter of the activist and literary critic Hannaniah-Meir Caiserman) together founded the Montreal Artists School, which remained active into the early 1950s. Pinsky’s interest in socialism and public art took him to Mexico in 1948, and the mural painters he met there would have a lasting influence on his work. His own production included a mural created for a clothing factory on St. Lawrence Boulevard that was owned by his mother-in-law, Sarah Wittal-Caiserman, a leftist Zionist and patron of the arts. In 1962, he became the dean of the new department of Fine Arts at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University), a position he held until 1980. Throughout his life, he advocated for the role of art in education, a commitment that led him to found the Child Art Council and chair the Canadian Society for Education through Art. Pinsky was also an art critic for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Canadian Art, as well as an essayist. His best-known piece of writing on art, “A Study of the Work,” was published to mark a retrospective exhibition of the work of Goodridge Roberts in 1969.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher
Black, Barbara."Happy 80th Birthday to Founder of Faculty of Fine Arts." Concordia Journal 1.2 (2005).
Trépanier, Esther. Peintres juifs de Montréal: témoins de leur époque, 1930-1948. Montreal: Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2008.
Trépanier, Esther. Jewish Painters and Modernity: Montreal 1930-1945. Montreal: Centre Saidye Bronfman, 2008.
*Images courtesy of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery and the Records Management and Archives Department, Concordia University.