LOT 038

1909 - 1977

acrylic polymer emulsion on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated March 1970 and inscribed "Toronto" and "Acrylic Polymer W.E."
68 1/8 x 91 1/8 in, 173 x 231.5 cm

Estimate: $350,000 - $450,000 CAD

Sold for: $691,250

Preview at: PacArt, Toronto

André Emmerich Gallery, New York, July 22, 1970 - summer 1971
Mr. and Mrs. Alan Kotliar
Private Collection, Toronto
Sold sale of Important Canadian Art, Sotheby’s Canada, October 30, 1990, lot 49
Benjamin Swirsky
Sharon London Liss Inc., Toronto
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
Private Collection, Montreal

Jack Bush: New Paintings, André Emmerich Gallery, 1970, reproduced on the cover
Kenworth Moffett, “Jack Bush: Illusions of Transparency,” ARTnews 70, no. 1, March 1971, reproduced pages 42 and 44
Hoestere, “Acryl in Lyrischer Abstraktion: Pure-Color-Malerei Wird zur Dominierenden 'Kunstrichtung in New York,' ” Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 15, 1971, reproduced
William J. Withrow, Contemporary Canadian Painting, 1972, reproduced page 66
Karen Wilkin, editor, Jack Bush, 1984, “Jack Bush in the 1970s,” page 57, reproduced page 57
Marc Mayer and Sarah Stanners, Jack Bush, National Gallery of Canada, 2014, essay by Adam Welch, “ ‘New York Hot Licks’: Jack Bush After Clement Greenberg,” pages 69 and 70

André Emmerich Gallery, New York, Jack Bush: New Paintings, October 24 - November 12, 1970

Jack Bush’s absorbingly playful Strawberry is a prime example of the breakthrough in the treatment of his paintings’ grounds that came in 1969, and which the artist developed for the rest of his career. Bush typically worked in series as a way to address issues that challenged his vision of what abstract art should be. The varied band of saturated colours that we see across the bottom of Strawberry is a familiar, though always nuanced, feature of canvases from the late 1960s. Strikingly different from this earlier work, however, is his working of the ground. Where a few years earlier Bush would abut his colour scales to fields of smooth, monochromatic colour, here we see a mottled and light-heartedly pink ground applied thinly with a roller.

Charles W. Millard, quoted in Karen Wilkin’s monograph, offered a formal reading of the import of this innovation in Strawberry, one that accords with both Bush’s way of talking about his paintings and the priorities of the famous American art critic Clement Greenberg (1909 - 1994), with whom Bush conversed about abstraction extensively for 20 years: “The juxtaposition of the modulated ground with a fringe of stripes at the bottom threatened to subvert the declarative flatness that Bush consistently sought in his mature work.” Strawberry successfully resisted this issue, Millard claimed, thanks to “the assertiveness of the freely drawn ‘U’ on top of the ground, which pulled the upper part of the composition to the surface of the canvas and held it there in tension with the stripes.” This interpretation in turn suggests two connected - yet in some ways opposite - ways to think about this painting. One is to query the much-discussed Bush-Greenberg relationship; the other is to look with renewed vigour at what Bush does within the frame.

Without detailing the profound connections between Bush and Greenberg that began with a studio visit in Toronto in 1957, it is worth emphasizing that this was an ongoing relationship that even affected the presentation of Strawberry in New York’s prestigious André Emmerich Gallery in the fall of 1970. Greenberg was instrumental in securing this top-tier representation in New York for Bush. He was also in the habit of hanging Bush’s shows there, sometimes without the artist’s presence. But there was an important change with the fall 1970 exhibit in which Strawberry figured so prominently: Bush hung this show initially, but recalled that “Clem came at 12:30 & of course re-hung it, eliminating & bringing back works I’d decided against.” Strawberry was clearly in favour.

Greenberg’s disapproval of much that Bush did is also important to how we see the painting today. In contrast to his published support of American peers Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, the critic wrote little about Bush. Greenberg offered one possible reason in 1980, after Bush’s death in 1977: Bush “put into his pictures such things as travel souvenirs, flags, road signs, emblems, knowing well enough that they weren’t supposed to belong in canonically abstract art.” But that was then. Because we are no longer restricted by such purist priorities, by aversions to what was called “imagism,” the large U-shape that Millard suggested functions to assert flatness can also be seen to take us away from the canvas itself to the associations that Bush teases us with in his title. “Strawberry” of course refers to the hue of both the ground and the “U.” Looking reveals that there both is and is not a strawberry here.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Landscape into Eco Art: Articulations of Nature Since the ’60s, for contributing the above essay.

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

Estimate: $350,000 - $450,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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