Painter. An independent, he employed both representational and nonobjective elements, often to gently bemused effect. Originally from Minsk, Russia (now Belarus), he came with his family to New York in 1911. With little training as an artist, in 1919 he began to paint energetic abstractions. Some of these incorporate elements of fantasy, producing visionary effects. After subsequently practicing a rather hard realism for three years, in 1927 he departed for Paris. This yearlong sojourn stimulated his most personal and original works as he enriched representation with shifting, layered, or transparent planes to suggest instability and dreamlike, surrealistic states. Among his most effective paintings from this period, Haunted House (Art Institute of Chicago, 1930) details an old New England interior, but around its edges the room becomes transparent to admit intruding views of other houses and a mysterious human silhouette. Kantor also painted views of Union Square from his Fourteenth Street studio, as well as scenes inspired by the New England countryside and shore. From 1936 until illness compelled retirement in 1972, he taught at the Art Students League. He died in a Nyack hospital, not far from his Hudson River Valley home in New City.
His wife, painter Martha Ryther (1896–1981), experimented imaginatively with modern styles during the early part of her career. In the 1940s she began to specialize in delicately composed, introspective interiors painted on glass, although she essayed other subjects as well. Born in Boston, she worked with Maurice Prendergast before moving in 1917 to New York, where she continued her studies with William Zorach and Hugo Robus at the Modern Art School. She later traveled and worked in Europe. After a divorce from Jock Fulton, she and Kantor married in 1928. In her final years, prevented from painting by illness, she worked with collage almost until her death at her New City home.