ARCA CGP CSGA CSPWC OSA P11
1909 - 1977
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated 1968 and inscribed "Toronto"
68 x 28 1/2 in, 172.7 x 72.4 cm
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Sold for: $181,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto, October 1968
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto, November 1975
Mr. and Mrs. Ted Stringer, November 1975
Malcolm Fisher, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Gail Dexter, Toronto Daily Star, November 9, 1968, page 37
According to the Jack Bush’s records, Top Tan is one of the first vertical paintings to employ a dominant monochrome ground with a multi-coloured fringe along the bottom of the composition. It is a bold move, but played perfectly by Jack Bush, who was a master of colour. By the end of 1968, Bush’s “fringe” paintings were highlighted in a solo exhibition at the David Mirvish Gallery. Writing for the Toronto Daily Star on November 9, 1968, Gail Dexter reported that “The David Mirvish Gallery pulsated with color, the colors of Jack Bush’s new paintings, brilliant red, purple, yellow and the colors that have become peculiar to Bush, the strange fleshy tones that might be called grey, buff, rose.” In the same review, Dexter captured the artist’s sentiments about aiming high in his career:
“…what’s the point in being a painter if you don’t try to be the best painter in the world? It takes something special for me to say that. I didn’t accept the challenge until 1964-65, after two or three New York and London shows. Being a Sunday painter, you get used to hiding.”
This was a pivotal moment in the life of the painter, and the change he pursued was twofold: he left his day job as a commercial artist to work full time on his fine art, and he set up a large studio for painting that was, for the first time ever, outside of his usual single-room studio at home. Bush set up his new studio on Wolseley Street in downtown Toronto in late August 1968, and the timing of his new setup suggests that Top Tan (painted in July 1968) was among the last few paintings he executed before this move.
The “fringe” paintings are few and fleeting – a bright and brave streak of paintings that coincide with the giant leap that Bush took away from his 41-year-long career in commercial art and toward complete dedication to his art. What came next, and too soon, were health problems for the artist. In the spring of 1969, Bush was diagnosed with angina. His ailing heart would not stop his passion or fantastic results in painting, but it does make 1968 seem limitless by comparison. Top Tan is optimistic; straight colour for colour’s sake makes the painting timeless, and ever present.
The year 1968 was a full one for the artist. He won the Guggenheim Fellowship, traveled across Canada as a juror for the Canada Council for the Arts and spent two weeks at Cranbrook mentoring young artists, yet he always preferred to live in Toronto, where he could remain focused. Speaking again with Dexter from the Toronto Daily News, Bush admitted:
“I was never tempted to move to New York. I’m more comfortable working here and maintaining contacts with New York and London. Oh, I spent a month painting in New York in 1962 on a Canada Council grant. I’ve never been so miserable – but all these paintings come out of that misery.”
Painting transported Bush. He found all the escape he needed while immersed in fields of colour. The same experience is offered to us, the viewer, in paintings like Top Tan.
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 adjunct 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. The deadline for new submissions or updates to the first print edition of the catalogue raisonné is December 31, 2020.
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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