LOT 022

1909 - 1977

acrylic polymer on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated December 1974, inscribed "Toronto" / "Top" (with arrow) / "Acrylic Polymer W.B.", numbered C-45 on a label and stamped Jack Bush Art Estate on a label
28 1/2 x 36 5/8 in, 72.4 x 93 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $145,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Estate of the Artist
Acquired from the above by a Private Collection, Ontario
Private Estate, Ontario

On November 25, 1974, about one month before Jack Bush painted Crescendo, the renowned photographer Yousuf Karsh visited Bush’s studio. Karsh photographed the artist alongside a number of colour-test strips of canvas and with Bush’s painting Opus ½ (B.G. Quartet 1938) serving as the backdrop.

According to the artist’s diary, Karsh had wanted Bush to pose with one of his paintings on an easel. However, it had been decades since Bush used an easel while painting. Bush’s usual practice was to tack a piece of unstretched canvas to his studio wall, or to a board leaning against the wall. This approach was especially useful when he used a roller or a sponge to paint his later works; this way, his movements and the scale of his work could be unrestricted. Evidently, Karsh was not interested in capturing any sense of freedom or largeness in Bush’s practice and instead posed his subject amongst props more evocative of European than American painting. Whereas Opus ½ was mostly painted with a sponge, Bush stands in the photo with a brush. The painting is also butted up against the window (an impossible position in Bush’s actual practice), in a manner that prioritized Karsh’s attention to light and composition over authenticity or fidelity to his subject. The photo represents Karsh’s work as a photographer more than it represents Bush’s manner as a painter, but it remains a marker of success for Bush.

Karsh’s subjects were figures of fame, genius or mastery of their craft. Karsh shot portraits of Jean Paul Riopelle, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ernest Hemingway and Sophia Loren, plus many others. The simple fact that Karsh desired to photograph Bush meant that he was an artist of high repute. Crescendo was painted when the artist had reached his aspirations, when he had consolidated his reputation as a leader amongst abstract painters. The lyricism and joyous appearance of this painting matches the kind of sureness that Bush had earned by 1974.

Compared to the majority of Bush's paintings from the 1970s, Crescendo is relatively small, measuring 28 ½ x 36 5/8 inches (72.4 x 93 cm), but its reservation in scale lends a certain amount of positive compression to the picture. The result is a concentrated dose of colour and expressionism. The expressionistic or action-like character of this painting is found in the yellow-chartreuse ground, which Bush created by using a hand-held sponge and a bowl of loosely mixed acrylic paint.

Bush made intentional analogies to music in paintings of this period. In 1974, he began to refer to a glossary of musical terms to title his paintings. Crescendo was undoubtedly a title sourced from this glossary, but the relationship between his paintings and music goes beyond their titles. Like a film score, the swipes of ground paint in Crescendo create a rhythm or vibe that supports the main action of the colour bars, which climb with increasing intensity and proximity up the left side of the canvas.

If evidence were ever required to prove that Bush was a master of colour, this painting could be “exhibit A.” As its title suggests, Crescendo is an exciting artistic expression of climax. In the spirit of an exclamation point, Crescendo acts like an attention-grabbing punctuation mark with its brilliant colours and suggestion of movement. Both the colour palette and application build to provoke an altogether happy sensation.

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 Sarah Stanners’s forthcoming Jack Bush Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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