Lot #24

Jack Bush
Column on Browns

oil on canvas
signed, titled and dated 1965 on the reverse
80 x 64 ins ( 203.2 x 162.6 cms )

Sold for $870,000.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Provenance:
Collection of the artist (1965)
Robert Elkon (1965-1983)
Sotheby’s New York, auction (November 9, 1983), lot 23
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (1984)
Gallery One (September 1988)
Private Collection, Ontario
Exhibited:
“Colorists 1950-1965”, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1965
“Jacques Hurtubise and Jack Bush: Sao Paulo IX Biennial”, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1967
“Jack Bush: A Selection 1961 - 65”, Robert Elkon Gallery, New York, 1980
“Robert Elkon - Two Decades”, Robert Elkon Gallery, New York, 1981
“Jack Bush Paintings: 1965-1976: an exhibition in honour of the publication of ‘The Life and Art of Jack Bush’”, André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1984
Literature:
Jean-René Ostiguy, “Jacques Hurtubise and Jack Bush: Sao Paulo IX Biennial 1967” [Exhibition Catalogue], National Gallery of Canada, 1967, n.p., cat. no 1
Robert Elkon Gallery, “Jack Bush: A Selection 1961 - 65” [Exhibition Catalogue], 1980, n.p., cat. no. 2, reproduced in colour
“Robert Elkon - Two Decades” [Exhibition Catalogue], 1981, reproduced page 45
Jack Bush quoted in Ronald Alley, “Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists”, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, page 89
Roberta Smith, ‘Jack Bush’, [Review/Art] “The New York Times” (18 March 1988)
Barbara Rose, “Introduction,”in “Robert Elkon: Two Decades”, The Robert Elkon Gallery, 1981
Jack Bush quoted in Joy Hakanson, ‘A Canadian Does His Thing: Making Great Paintings’, “Detroit News” (10 November 1968), page 10
“Column on Browns” is a triple-threat, boasting a stellar exhibition history, provenance, and appearance worth applause for its beautiful colour and composition in perfect balance. This painting is a superb example of Bush’s work from his golden period in the mid 1960s. Nineteen-sixty-five was the last year Bush painted in oils. “Column on Browns” demonstrates his mastery of a near soak-stain technique with remarkable free-hand lines that add a sense of humanity to the abutting blocks of colour that vibrate in their proximity to each other – yellow against red, red against orange, orange against blue, and blue against lime green. This wild combination of colours sing together in the same high key, and while the concept of holding them all together between two slightly different browns sounds awkward, the result is both harmonious and exciting.

Another painting in the same vein as “Column on Browns” is Bush’s “Colour Column on Suede” (April 1965), which was acquired by the Tate Gallery in London, UK, in 1967. Just like “Column on Browns”, “Colour Column on Suede” stacks the same combination of colours in its central column, and in the same order. The only difference is that two dark yellow sections flank the column rather than two browns. On May 28th, 1967, Bush wrote about “Colour Column on Suede” and the related series:

It is one of a series I painted during 1964-66. It is painted in oil on canvas duck, which was sized with rabbit skin glue prior to painting. All the canvases in this series were stretched on a false wall, with plenty of extra canvas all round, so as to allow the ‘column’ or central image, to get itself placed and surrounded, with the ‘ground’ colour; not a background - but an active-neutral two sides that would bring the ‘column’ to its greatest pitch in colour. The amount of ground needed seemed crucial, so that the cropping was done only after the canvas was completed. Since then, I have been attempting to make that ground much more active, so that I am ending up with an all over image. (Bush qtd. In “Catalogue of the Tate”, 1981, p.81)

The aforementioned artist’s statement reveals why Bush decided to use two slightly different browns on either side of the column in “Column on Browns”. Bush aimed to avoid a traditional figure-ground relationship and by using two browns rather than carrying over the same colour of brown on both sides, he effectively defeated the suggestion of a background. He achieved “not a background - but an active-neutral two sides that would bring the ‘column’ to its greatest pitch in colour” (ibid). The result is that we are not looking at any one thing, or subject; we are looking at the pure presence of colour. The painting, liberated from the obligation to represent or even abstract anything in particular, simply is what it is. “New York Times” art critic Roberta Smith once described the union of substrate and paint in reference to a Bush painting from 1963 titled “Tight Sash”, stating that “paint and raw canvas are inextricably meshed, as color and surface.” That is, there is no paint placed upon a canvas stage – the colour is the stage.

“Column on Browns” is an exemplar of this key characteristic of Color Field art – to unite surface and colour – and the best eyes in the art world knew it, too. Robert Elkon purchased “Column on Browns” in 1965. Art critic Barbara Rose described Elkon as “one of those rare art dealers who have expressed taste without attempting to enforce it as a matter of power politics.” This wasn’t the first painting by Bush to be acquired by Elkon. Back in 1962, Elkon became Bush’s first art dealer in New York City. Bush’s experience with the Robert Elkon Gallery on Madison Avenue was good but, by 1965, he made a move to join the André Emmerich Gallery on East 57th Street. The painting remained in Elkon’s possession until his death in 1983.

After Elkon’s passing, Emmerich took possession of “Column on Browns” and quickly added it to a special solo exhibition at his gallery in 1984 – “Jack Bush Paintings: 1965-1976.” He advertised the show with an image of “Column on Browns” as a full-page frontispiece in the first issue of Canadian Art magazine (volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 1984). Before “Column on Browns” was exhibited in New York in the 1980s, the painting traveled extensively, first to the California coast in 1965 and then to Brazil in 1967. In California, the painting was displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Art in an exhibition titled “Colorists 1950-1965.” In this exhibition, “Column on Browns” was shown alongside artworks by Josef Albers, Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and other popular artists. With a painting dating to the same year in which the exhibition opened, Bush represented the cutting edge of colour in contemporary art.

Two years later, Bush represented Canada at the IX São Paulo Bienal, where 16 of his paintings were shown, including “Column on Browns”. Bush was a contender to win the grand prize at this prestigious international convergence of artists and cultural elites but, to the shock of many, including critics who called the process political, Bush did not win. His reaction to the loss was to express the real win, and not just for him, but for Canada: “I wasn’t unhappy to read in the New York Times that first prize looked like a toss-up between Jack Bush of Canada, and Richard Smith of England. Smith won the $10,000. But the review pleased me about as much as getting the prize and it brought credit to Canada, too.” (Bush qtd. In “Detroit News”, 1968, p.10)

Bush did indeed bring credit to Canada, and he did it by generating applause abroad before receiving equal praise at home. In fact, of the 52 paintings Bush made in 1965, he sent 40 of them to the UK and US for sale where they resided for decades before returning to Canada where the love for his work has, with time, grown immeasurably.

This painting will be included in Dr. Stanners’ forthcoming “Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné”.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Sarah Stanners for contributing the preceding essay. Sarah is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Art History while writing the forthcoming “Jack Bush Catalogue Raisonné”. From 2015 to 2018 she was the Chief Curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Co-Curator of the 2014/2015 national travelling exhibition, “Jack Bush”, Co-Author of the resulting 2014 exhibition catalogue (”Jack Bush”) and guest curator and author for “Jack Bush: In Studio”, organized by the Esker Foundation in Calgary.

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Jack Hamilton Bush
(1909 - 1977) Painters Eleven, 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), John Hamilton (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.

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