LOT 025

1909 - 1977

acrylic polymer on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated January 1976 and inscribed "Toronto" and "Acrylic Polymer W.B."
77 1/4 x 30 1/8 in, 196.2 x 76.5 cm

Estimate: $160,000 - $200,000 CAD

Sold for: $193,250

Preview at:

Private Estate, Ontario

Painted in January 1976, Notation represents the first discernible handkerchief-style painting produced by Jack Bush. “Handkerchief” is a term that has been used to describe the characteristic look of falling squares of cloth or paper, particularly in Bush’s late work. No other painting by Bush looks like Notation until nearly a year later, in November 1976, when the falling square figures appear in several paintings in a row, but suddenly stop with the death of the artist in January 1977. Appearing long before the bulk of the handkerchief paintings, Notation therefore appears like a premonition, or a personal note to self, within Bush’s oeuvre. Notation represents the spark of a good idea, which he later refined in the last two months of his life. It is as if this flash of inspiration needed time to simmer before the artist attempted to make other paintings in this specific style. Notation is the kind of painting Bush would call a “risk,” and this one brought on beautiful rewards.

The title Notation is a musical reference, similar to the vast majority of titles in Bush’s abstract paintings from 1974 on. The paintings Bush made directly after Notation bear titles such as Double Bass, Moonlight Sonata and Bull Fiddle. These three paintings, and others like them from this period, also have rectilinear shapes dancing across the canvas; however, their shapes are distinctly more rectangular than the squarish shapes that tumble down the canvas in Notation. The difference may seem small, but the long rectangles in Double Bass, for example, are much more evocative of brush-strokes and, in the pacing of their placement, they also generate a stronger sense of rhythm and are thus more readily described as musical. Notation, on the other hand, is less abstracting (turning the idea of music into a painting) and more about the nature of painting itself. The composition experiments with the traditional figure-ground relationship in painting, creating a sense of natural movement with the look of falling forms, and yet the illusion of depth is avoided. The squares tumble down together, but they never overlap.

This is true of all the paintings Bush made around the time of Notation’s execution, whether they have rectilinear shapes or bright, brushy strokes of colour dancing across the canvas. The shapes he places upon his mottled grounds do not overlap until about a year later, in December 1976. Still, Bush worked for only about one month on paintings with overlapping shapes that hint at the idea of space before he suffered a fatal heart attack. Drawings left behind in his studio suggest that his next aesthetic move was to add floating organic shapes to the handkerchief paintings.

Notation is the kind of Bush painting that stands as strong evidence of the influence of Henri Matisse’s late work. In particular, Matisse’s cut-outs come to mind when looking at Bush’s handkerchief paintings. Over the years, Bush saw Matisse’s work in person, first in New York – as early as 1961 – and again in France in 1962. Bush’s admiration of Matisse’s work would continue for the rest of his life.

The Snail (1953) is one of the most abstract cut-out works by Matisse, and an obvious forebear to Bush’s handkerchief paintings. This impressive Matisse collage, made with painted pieces of paper, was shown in New York in 1961 in a MoMA exhibition titled The Last Works of Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches. The Snail was made one year before Matisse’s death and, certainly not consciously, Bush produced a powerful series of his most Matissean paintings in the last year of his life. Notation was the beginning of a beautiful end.

We thank Dr. Sarah Stanners, director of the Jack Bush Catalogue Raisonné, contributor to the Bush retrospective originating at the National Gallery of Canada in 2014, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Art History, for contributing the above essay.

This work will be included in Stanners’s forthcoming Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné.

Estimate: $160,000 - $200,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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