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Kay Woods

Jack Bush
Waddington Galleries, Toronto, November 3 - 28, 1979

artscanada #232/233, Dec. 1979 - Jan.1980.
[ 483 words ]


One of the most important exhibitions to take place in Toronto recently was the showing of thirty-five early oil sketches by the late Jack Bush (1909-1977) at Waddington Galleries. It is unfortunate that this period of his work was not included in Jack Bush: A Retrospective, organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1976, which only covered the years from 1958 to 1975. As important as the Retrospective was, it was narrow in its viewpoint. Only when an exhibition covering his entire oeuvre is finally assembled will we be able fairly to assess this artist in a manner deserving of his prodigious output spanning fifty years. But it has been fashionable for some time now to date Bush's arrival on the art scene to 1957, when Clement Greenberg visited the Painters Eleven in Toronto for the purpose of assessing their work. Now one can only wonder if by confining the Retrospective to those later years it did not do more justice to Greenberg than to Bush. The current show was an outstanding display of clear colourful paintings, amazingly competent for an artist starting out in his career, for here future developments could be discerned. The earliest painting shown was Laurentians (1927) done when Bush was eighteen. The artist had just finished high school in Montreal, and he was combining work with attending art school in the evenings. When he painted this canvas, the Group of Seven was in full swing, and their influence can be seen. However, the work already reveals a free loose brush stroke, which simplified his natural forms to a degree not found in contemporary landscapes. His marvelous selection of colours — a full range of blues and greens with purple, orange and deep pink — speak of Bush as a colourist right from the beginning. His reputation as a colourist since 1960 is validated in these early works.

Many other artists were an inspiration to Bush during this period: Tom Thomson's clear vision of nature is seen in paintings like Lac Marois (1930) and Northern Lights Caledon (1938); the images of houses in the Ward district of Toronto show the strong influence of Lawren Harris, although the sketch Back Alley, Toronto (Bay and Dundas) of 1930 is more like Maurice Cullen's Old Houses, Montreal (c. 1908) in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Harbour Kincardine (1939) suggests the concerns of his former teacher, Charles Comfort.

The most unusual painting in the exhibition, a harbinger of things to come, was the incredible Sunset (1937). For this work not to have been included in his Retrospective was indeed an error of omission. It was perhaps the progenitor of his first colourfield painting, handled in an Abstract Expressionist manner. Bush's contribution to twentieth-century art is enriched by an opportunity to study the early works.


artscanada #232/233, Dec. 1979 - Jan.1980.


Text: © Kay Woods. All rights reserved.

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