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LOT 036

Jack Hamilton Bush
1909 - 1977

acrylic polymer on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated April - May 1967 and inscribed "Toronto" and "Acrylic Polymer W.B."
57 1/8 x 114 in 145.1 x 289.6 cm

Estimate: $350,000 - $550,000

Sold for: $421,250

Preview at:

André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Harcus-Krakow Gallery, Boston
Collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, acquired from the above in 1977
Estate of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg

Robert Fulford, “Bush and Hurtubise: Bigger and Better,” The Toronto Daily Star, September 27, 1967, page 39
Emily Wasserman, “Review: Jack Bush at André Emmerich Gallery,” Artforum, vol. 6, no. 3, November 1967, page 60
Kim Ness, The Art Collection of McMaster University: European, Canadian, American, Chinese and Japanese Paintings, Prints, Drawings, Sculpture and Ceramics, 1987, page 206
Paulette Gagnon and Yolande Racine, L'oeil du collectionneur, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, 1996, listed page 58

André Emmerich Gallery, New York, Jack Bush, September 23 - October 19, 1967
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, L'oeil du collectionneur / The Collector’s Eye, October 18, 1996 - January 5, 1997

The Montreal home of Blema and Arnold Steinberg was both modest and extraordinary. Their collection of Colour Field art was based on connoisseurship, but the couple’s attitude when arranging and engaging with their collection remained highly personal and unassuming. They surrounded themselves with what they loved, and the result was a veritable hug of glowing colour and feeling in every room. Morris Louis greeted you at the entrance and Helen Frankenthaler commanded the sitting room (true to form in art and life). Upstairs, Jack Bush’s Shaft spoke to Kenneth Noland across the room.

The best private collections offer so many curatorial impossibilities – that is to say, a presentation of art that rarely, if ever, comes together so intimately in public spaces. It is no surprise that Shaft was featured in an exhibition titled L’oeil du collectionneur / The Collector’s Eye at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (1996 to 1997). Blema and Arnold Steinberg’s names appeared together in “The Top 200 Collectors” list in ARTnews every year from 1998 through 2014, a major feat since the list is global in its consideration of top art collectors. The Steinberg collection allowed Bush to be seen under the same roof with Mark Rothko, as well as with a rare collection of monochrome Chinese ceramics from the Song and Qing dynasties. Colour was palpable in the Steinberg home. It is not at all surprising that the Steinbergs enthusiastically collected paintings by Bush. The artist’s sense of colour is incomparable in Canada and deeply respected abroad by his peers.

Strong and vibrant hues marched across many of Bush’s canvases in 1967, and some of the best of his striped paintings, including Shaft, were shown in a solo exhibition simply titled Jack Bush at the André Emmerich Gallery in New York City in the fall of 1967. In reviewing that show, Robert Fulford used the phrase “Violence contained within outward serenity” to describe Bush’s striped paintings like this one. The three diagonal stripes in Shaft – red, yellow and green – are of equal thickness, while the vertical stripes to the left and the horizontal stripes to the right appear in varying thicknesses. The contrast makes the central triple diagonal command a sense of strength and, significantly, an implied rather than actual depth.

Emily Wasserman, reviewing the same exhibition for Artforum, responded to the striped paintings by Bush by stating:

“Usually, saturation is so even that any contrasting effects are dulled by the uniformity of application and value. Likewise, there seems to be a sort of indiscriminate scattering of the colors. There is very little rhythm or pattern to their distribution within one canvas, and if chromatic juxtapositions are optically vibrant, one feels that this is more fortuitous than specifically designed.”

The above observation perfectly describes the difference between Bush’s bands of colour and Guido Molinari’s, for example. Bush’s stripes, however strict they may appear at first glance, are deeply felt; that is, the choice of colours is ad lib (chosen according to what he found appealing in the moment). He did not execute dead-straight lines; instead they waver, they bleed, and they randomly touch and dare not to touch each other. Bush’s stripes are not hard-edged. Writing on another 1967 striped painting – White Shaft, in the collection of the McMaster Museum of Art, McMaster University (gift of Edwin L. Stringer) – Kim Ness agreed that Bush’s stacked stripes, which coincided with his new dedication to water-based acrylic paints, were not stiffly calculated: “The new medium and strict formalization did not cause a rigidity in approach. The pigment is evenly applied but this surface maintains a liveliness. Colour divisions are not mathematically precise but retain an intuitive line.”

While intuition dominated the execution of Shaft, there may be some deliberate play or experiment in the artist’s choice to deploy four different shades of green in one strictly abstract painting. This may be what keeps our eye forever interested in his stripes, therefore giving the experience of viewing the painting some longevity – in process and appeal. Shaft is more than 50 years old and yet it appears as fresh as ever and completely contemporary.

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: $350,000 - $550,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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