Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Ochre Blue Square

Jack Bush
Ochre Blue Square

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1962 lower left; signed, titled and dated 1962 on the reverse
30 x 24 ins ( 76.2 x 61 cms )

Auction Estimate: $40,000.00$30,000.00 - $40,000.00

Price Realized $30,680.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

Collection of the artist
Estate of the artist
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
Wallace Galleries, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
Jack Bush: peintures des années ’60 et ’70/Jack Bush: Paintings of the 60s and 70s, Galerie Dominion, Montreal, 1990, no. 11
Marc Mayer, “Jack Bush: A Double Life,” in Jack Bush, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2014, page 21
Charles W. Millard, “Jack Bush in the 1970s”, in Jack Bush, Karen Wilkin (ed.), Toronto, 1984, page 48
Kenworth W. Moffett, “Jack Bush in Retrospect”, in Jack Bush, Karen Wilkin (ed.), Toronto, 1984, page 34
Departing in the late 1950s from an Abstract Expressionist technique that had featured broadly outlined forms executed in thickly applied, modulated pigments, Jack Bush transitioned to a more personal idiom that would become his signature style: systems of clearly defined, repeating geometric forms rendered in flatter, more idiosyncratic shades. Though this consistent technique would become synonymous with the artist’s mature period, an examination of his practice at the outset of the 1960s reveals that the adventurous spirit and penchant for diversity that had characterized the artist’s previous decade, while refined considerably, had not waned. As scholars of his work have often noted, Bush’s paintings of the 1960s and 1970s differ from those of many of his contemporaries for their “typological variety.” Marc Mayer explains that, unlike the work of American painters Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, who tended to adhere more closely to signature styles, Bush’s oeuvre constitutes a series of experimental phases after 1960. Working through a number of “coherent sets of non-representational picture ideas separated by hybrid moments of experimentation,” Bush’s imagery and formal approaches would occasionally overlap, succeeding each other “anarchically and anachronistically” as the artist negotiated between past and current developments.

Reminiscent of the concepts Bush had begun to explore in his assertive Thrust paintings of 1959, which had been the subjects of his first solo exhibition in New York City at the Robert Elkon Gallery in 1962, “Ochre Blue Square” also foreshadows the artist’s rectilinear Flags of 1962-63. A seeming union of the two motifs, the composition recedes into a central vertical band of dense black oil pigment surrounded by a thinner green which hints at the acrylic washes and earth tones of subsequent years. The translucent ochre and blue paint applied with a brush to the titular square foreshadow the effects Bush would achieve with water-based acrylics after his switch to the medium in 1966, though, as Charles W. Millard notes in his discussion of Bush’s works from the early 1960s, in his earlier canvases the effect derives from pigment residues in his thinned oils and the surface texture of the support itself. As Bush transitioned to his subsequent “Sash” motif, Millard adds, forms increasingly shift and attach themselves to the edge of the canvas, “leaving a residual ground next to them [and] tightening the surface of the composition.” Kenworth W. Moffett posits that the Thrusts and Flags bear a strong resemblance to the abstraction of Henri Matisse, an artist whom Bush openly admired, explaining that works from this era draw from one of the French artist’s key organizational concepts; that is, establishing a bold figure-ground opposition in which a central rectilinear form appears ‘negative’ because it is either less painted or more evenly painted than its surrounds. With its crisp geometric planes, mottled application of pigment, and inverted figure-ground relationship, Ochre Blue Square of 1962 is an intriguing transitional work, one that synthesizes several of the artist’s most enduring experiments from the era.

The preceding essay was written by Consignor Canadian Fine Art specialists.

“Ochre Blue Square” will be included in the forthcoming “Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné”. We thank Dr. Sarah Stanners for providing cataloguing details related to the artwork.

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Jack Hamilton Bush
(1909 - 1977) Painters Eleven, Canadian Group of Painters, OSA, ARCA

A founding member of the Painters Eleven group and the subject of major retrospectives at the Art Gallery of Ontario (1976) and the National Gallery of Canada (2014), Jack Bush (born March 20, 1909 in Toronto; died January 24, 1977 in Toronto) was one of Canada’s most influential artists. Among the first Canadian painters of his generation to achieve international success in his lifetime, Bush was a masterful draftsman and colourist whose works are coveted by major institutions and private collectors throughout the world. Born in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto in 1909, Bush spent his childhood in London, Ontario, and Montréal, Québec, where he studied at the Royal Canadian Academy and apprenticed as a commercial artist in his father’s business, Rapid Electro Type Company. After relocating in 1928 to work in the firm’s Toronto offices, his interest in fine art grew through contact with members of the Group of Seven, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Canadian Group of Painters. Working as a commercial artist by day, Bush painted and took night classes at the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University) throughout the 1930s, studying under Frederick Challener, John Alfsen, George Pepper, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Charles Comfort. After forming the commercial design firm Wookey, Bush and Winter in 1942 with partners Leslie Wookey and William Winter, Bush remained engaged in the graphic art world until his retirement in 1968.

Like many of his contemporaries in Toronto, Bush had little exposure to international trends of modernism during his formative years as a painter. For nearly two decades, he drew inspiration for his landscape and figural paintings from works by members of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Canadian Group of Painters. Though he began to incorporate non-representational elements in his work in the late 1940s, Bush’s more focused experimentations with formal abstraction in the early 1950s reveal the conspicuous influence of his eventual encounters with modern artwork in Toronto and New York City. In 1953, Bush joined the newly-founded Toronto artist group Painters Eleven. Through his involvement in the group’s efforts to promote abstract painting in Canada, Bush met the influential New York City art critic Clement Greenberg. Their resulting friendship would influence Bush’s early development as an abstract painter, with Greenberg serving as an occasional mentor to the artist, encouraging him to abandon his Abstract Expressionist style in favour of a brighter, more refined palette and technique. Through his association with Painters Eleven, Bush became closely tied to Colour Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction—two movements that had evolved from Abstract Expressionism. After the group disbanded in 1959, Bush’s distinguished career was marked by numerous achievements, including the opportunity to represent Canada at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1967, after which his art found considerable commercial success in the United States (Bush had already been showing his work in New York City since 1962). In 1963, Hugo McPherson in his review of Bush’s showing at the Gallery Moos, Toronto, linked Bush with Matisse as follows, “...he reminds us of the classical joy and simplicity of the later Matisse. This is his richest vein. His comments on France, Italy, and Spain, and his observations titled ‘Red on Pink’ and ‘Growing Plant’ are at once spare and bright and probing.”

In 1972, Bush was the subject of the inaugural survey exhibition in the modern wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Four years later, the Art Gallery of Ontario organized a major touring retrospective of his work. Bush as a member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, 1942 (former President); Ontario Society of Artists (former Vice-President) 1943; Associate Royal Canadian Academician, 1946; Canadian Group of Painters’, 1948, and the Art Directors’ Club of Toronto. In 2014, the National Gallery of Canada hosted a major retrospective exhibition of Jack Bush’s work. A comprehensive catalogue raisonné of Bush’s work is set to be released in the coming years.

Jack Bush died at the age of 68 in 1977, one year after he received the honour of Officer of the Order of Canada.