Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Untitled (circa 1958)

Jack Bush
Untitled (circa 1958)

gouache on paper
14.75 x 20 ins ( 37.5 x 50.8 cms ) ( sheet )

Auction Estimate: $20,000.00$15,000.00 - $20,000.00

Price Realized $27,600.00
Sale date: June 9th 2021

Collection of the artist
William Ronald (a gift from Jack Bush)
Helen Ronald / The Estate of William Ronald
By 1958, Jack Bush was all-in with abstraction. This total commitment to painting abstractly did not happen overnight. Even as late 1953 through 1954 – that is, the first two years of Painters Eleven – Bush continued to paint representational subjects such as the nude figure, lake scenes, and various religious themes. This untitled gouache from the late 1950s is a marker of Bush’s breakaway from traditional painting. His dedication to non-objective painting is characterized by his mastery of colour and this painting certainly boasts colour as a priority.

While this painting remains unsigned, it fits well with a number of works on paper that Bush made in 1958, two of which are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada and are also untitled (acc. nos. NGC / MBAC 38436 and NGC / MBAC 38437). Like the present lot, these two paintings at the National Gallery are made with gouache (an opaque watercolour paint) in what appears to be a relatively quick and direct action that aims to let singular colours float independently on the paper, as if each colour is an island to be appreciated on its own.

In 1958, during the last year of operation for his co-founded commercial art and design firm Wookey, Bush and Winter, Bush often made quick abstract sketches in his spare time at work, when business was winding down. The purpose of these sketches was to get ideas out onto paper, and to practice an automatic technique – that is, to create a picture based in colour and form, without any preconceived ideas. These sketches usually remained just that – immediate expressions of creativity and action – but some were later worked up into larger works of oil on canvas, such as “Down Sweep” (oil, 190.5 x 243.2 cm, 1958), which was inspired by a much smaller study in gouache. These paintings, like the present lot, emphasize the nature of paint - celebrating the shape of a splatter or drip of paint, and advocating bright colours alongside a moody wedge of intense black. This approach was a far cry from his early landscapes and an altogether new shout out to New York, in particular.

From late April to early May 1958, Bush traveled to New York City, as he often did, and this time he saw the work of his fellow Painters Eleven member William Ronald at the Kootz Gallery. On that same visit to New York, Bush socialized with the art critic Clement Greenberg, who introduced him to Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Motherwell, among others. It was a whirlwind trip that also included a visit to the studio of Adolph Gottlieb, who made a big impression on Bush. Looking at this untitled gouache, Bush’s admiration for Gottlieb’s work may be seen in the way in which the splashy black form anchors the bottom of the composition. The hovering red form is like a purposefully rough rendition of the floating fits of colour found in Gottlieb’s famous “Burst” series from this same time. It was an exciting moment in the history of abstract painting. The wave was cresting and artists like Bush dove in – and went all out.

“Untitled (circa 1958)” 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.

In a discussion with Helen Ronald this year, she recounted how William Ronald acquired this artwork by Jack Bush:

“One day in 1958, while we were visiting Toronto, Jack Bush invited my husband, William Ronald, to meet up. Jack wanted to show him a new direction in painting he was thinking of. This was after Jack had met Clement Greenberg. Bill was surprised that Jack still cared about his opinion, especially as he felt there may have been some lingering hard feelings over his resignation from Painters Eleven the previous year.

When he returned home, I remember Bill describing how enthusiastic Jack was about his new direction in painting and how much he appreciated Bill’s arranging for Greenberg to visit Painters Eleven. Bill then showed me the impressive, beautiful work on paper which we’re now calling the “Gouache for William Ronald” by Jack Bush. It was totally different than any of the many paintings by Jack that I’d seen before. It made an indelible impression.

It’s worth noting, while Bill collected many works of art by other artists in his lifetime, most of which he generously gave away to friends, this Jack Bush gouache he kept.

At this time in my life, I’m organizing my archive for the future. I’m pleased to say that it’s now time for someone else to take care of this beautiful work of Jack’s.”

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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), 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.