Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  The Red Square

Jack Bush
The Red Square

oil on masonite
signed lower left
12 x 15.75 ins ( 30.5 x 40 cms )

Auction Estimate: $11,000.00$9,000.00 - $11,000.00

Price Realized $10,800.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Collection of the artist (June 1948-1974)
Estate of the artist
The Park Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
New Paintings by Jack Bush, Gavin Henderson Gallery, Toronto, 1949, cat. no. 11
Jack Bush: Early Work, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1985-86, cat. no. 44 plus tour
Jack Bush: Transition Years (1940-1956), Thielsen Gallery, London, 2013
Christine Boyanoski, Jack Bush: Early Work (Exhibition Catalogue), Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1985, reproduced page 61
The painting’s title – “The Red Square” – calls attention to a recurring symbol within the artist’s oeuvre. The red square in the upper right corner of the picture is arguably an abstracted version of a red sun, and the red sun is perhaps the most prevalent image found throughout the artist’s work from the 1940s and 1950s. Again and again, a red sun is seen in paintings that focus on the spirit, faith, or existential struggles. The 1997 Jack Bush survey organized by the Art Gallery of Algoma pointed to the significance of the sun in Bush’s practice with the exhibition’s title: “Hymn to the Sun, Early Work” (also named after a painting by the same title).

The source for Bush’s fascination with the red sun likely stems from the Anglican hymn by a similar name: “Every Morning the Red Sun”, written by Cecil F. Alexander and first published in “Hymns for Little Children” (1848). Through the metaphor of a rising and setting sun, the first verse of the hymn acknowledges the dips of spirit that are a part of the human condition:

“Every morning the red sun
Rises warm and bright;
But the evening cometh on,
And the dark, cold night.
There’s a bright land far away,
Where ’tis never-ending day.”

These words must have been meaningful to the artist who was undergoing his first years of therapy in the late 1940s. Bush’s paintings from 1947 through 1948 were often made in response to his midlife crisis and depression. Several of Bush’s paintings from this period included the symbol of the red sun, such as “Tangled”, “Contemplation”, “Exploration”, “Man Contemplating the Sun”, “Abstract: Light Thru Darkness”, and “Sorrow + Sun”, which all represented the artist’s emotional and spiritual thoughts. The warm and constant appearance of the sun was surely reassuring to the artist and emblematic of both renewal and endurance.

In March 1948 – just a few months before Bush painted “The Red Square” – the artist’s therapist, Dr. J. Allan Walters, encouraged Bush to paint without a plan in mind, to provoke a positive sense of creative freedom. This encouragement to pursue a kind of emotional catharsis through the act of painting was effective for the artist, and “The Red Square” is a testament to Bush’s newfound liberty. In comparison to the aforementioned paintings from this period, “The Red Square” displays a happy mood; the colours are playful and the forms are curious.

After a two-year hiatus, Bush showed his work in a solo exhibition at Toronto’s Gavin Henderson Galleries in October 1949. “The Red Square” was included in this coming out and the gallery called the show “an exhibition of provocative new paintings by Mr. Jack H. Bush, A.R.C.A., O.S.A.” The word “provocative” was applied to the 32 paintings that comprised the exhibition but it was, equally, the artist who was provoked. Abstract painting was his rising red sun – a bright land far away, where ‘tis never-ending day.

“The Red Square” will be included in the 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, 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.