Artwork by Jack Hamilton Bush,  Bridge Passage, 1975

Jack Bush
Bridge Passage, 1975

acrylic on canvas
signed, titled and dated “Jan. 1975” on the reverse
66 x 91.5 ins ( 167.6 x 232.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $400,000.00$300,000.00 - $400,000.00

Price Realized $288,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

The Artist
Estate of Jack Bush, 1975–1993
Salander O'Reilly Galleries, California
Meredith Long & Company, Houston, Texas
Gallery One, Toronto, circa 1993
Private Collection, Toronto, May 1993–April 2009
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto, 2009
Private Collection, Toronto
“Jack Bush: A Retrospective”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; travelling to the Vancouver Art Gallery; Edmonton Art Gallery; Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 17 September 1976–31 July 1977, no. 53
“Jack Bush”, Salander O’Reilly Galleries, Beverly Hills, California, 4 September 1991–3 October 1991, no. 17
“Jack Bush: On View”, Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto, 2022
Terry Fenton, “Jack Bush: A Retrospective”, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1976, no. 53, unpaginated, reproduced
Murray Battle,” Jack Bush”, National Film Board of Canada [film], 1979
“Jack Bush: On View”, Miriam Shiell Fine Art, 2022, unpaginated, reproduced
In 1976, the Art Gallery of Ontario organized a major Jack Bush retrospective exhibition which toured across the country, eventually closing in Ottawa, at the National Gallery of Canada in the summer of 1977. Notably, all paintings in the exhibition were abstract, dating from 1958 to 1975. Bridge Passage was included and featured as the earliest painting from Bush’s musical series in the show, preceded only by paintings from the artist’s Feather series. Curated in this way, “Bridge Passage” lived up to its title, appearing as a pivotal transition piece between two distinct series.

“Bridge Passage’s” connection to the Feather paintings is seen in the groundwork, where the paint has been applied in short swipes, like an overcast sky of purple cloud cover. The Feather paintings were the first series of paintings to have sponged–on grounds. On the other hand, “Bridge Passage’s” key marker as a musical or lyrical type painting is found in the short, brightly–coloured strokes that appear to hover muted mauve ground as two distinct groups at opposite ends of the picture: seven stacked vertically on the left side and six descending to the bottom right quadrant of the canvas.

The canvas also represents a departure for the artist: amid this completely abstract composition, which celebrates the non–objective merits of art and music, is a gesture – a hand–drawn line in chalk. Between May 1974 and May 1976, only three other paintings carry such an interruption: “Cirr” exhibits squiggly lines and “Bas Continuo #1” and “#2” involve short straight lines in chalk. Bush called the purple chalk gesture at the centre of “Bridge Passage” a “parabola stroke” and when he made the mark, he knew it was a risk. He was showing his hand – reminding the viewer of the source of illusion and virtuosity, which were qualities of art that he no longer pursued as an abstract painter. For so many years, Bush had distilled his paintings to the point of being pure expressions of colour, but with one bold move, he makes drawing the focus of his picture, and he makes it in the very material that the earliest masters of painting began with – coloured chalk.

Despite being a distinct moment of drawing, this curved line in Bridge Passage is not symbolic; it does not represent a thing or an idea, but instead serves, like a bridge passage in music, to link one section to another. This drawing is purposeful but not representational. Tracing this gesture in chalk, our eye is carried from one set of colour bars to the next. It simply acts to make a smooth transition across the composition which would otherwise be abrupt, and perhaps imply too much through negative space.

The paradoxical thing about a great Jack Bush painting is that the composition really works best, and stands the test of time, when there is a little something off about it; when things aren’t quite right, or perfect. If a painting works too well, it may be briefly satisfying, but it will not tug at us or motivate us to ask – why? In his contribution to the exhibition catalogue for “Jack Bush: A Retrospective” (1976), the artist wrote about a piece of advice from the art critic Clement Greenberg that stuck with him over the years: “If it scares you – good – you’ll know you are onto something that is your true self...” “Bridge Passage” captures an authentic moment, a motion to create without holding back, and this risk produced a beautiful reward.

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.over the

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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.