13 November 2014  •  22 February 2015


- About the Exhibition -

The Jack Bush retrospective exhibition is a unique opportunity to view a full picture of the artist’s five decades of artistic achievement. Included in the exhibition are paintings, drawings and commercial illustrations, along with sections of the artist’s unpublished diaries, which lend vitality to the account of his unusual career.

It seems that I have 3 worlds. This home – where we have no trouble much, active, working, building – living. We all seem to love it. But it all depends on the commercial studio work – which seems dead – no future and a shove. And I love it too – but I don’t seem to stay there much. ... Then the painting world.* More and more this becomes absorbing. I find it difficult to relate these 3 worlds. Maybe, tho’, like the areas in a painting – they are complete entities in themselves – but related by the space separating them?… *This crazy, fascinating, fantastic world of make believe, I don’t understand it. Is it real? In one way it is – but I keep trying to back out of it. No I don’t, I keep pushing deeper in.

Jack Bush, diary (9 August 1957)

Jack Bush’s life is a fascinating story of a mid-century commercial artist turned vanguard abstract painter. His career traces a long journey toward creative independence, providing many new and delightful vantage points onto the history of abstract art. Born in 1909, Bush was addressing an international audience by the 60s, regularly exhibiting his paintings in Toronto, New York and London. His training in commercial illustration, and his network of professional relationships on both sides of the Atlantic imbued his work with a language all its own. Nearly a generation older than his fellow Color Field artists, Bush struggled successfully to accommodate both the flatness of post painterly abstraction from the US and the persistence of the figure/ground tradition that is commonly associated with abstraction in the UK. The highly original paintings of this paradigmatic Canadian artist continue to interest art lovers well over three decades after his death.

- Biography -

Born in Toronto, Jack Bush (1909–1977) grew up in Montreal where he studied at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal. He moved to Toronto in his early twenties to work full-time in the commercial art business while taking night classes at the Ontario College of Art. During this period, he had modest exposure to modern European art, and, like many other Toronto painters at the time, was largely influenced by the Group of Seven.

Beginning in 1947, the artist sought treatment from a psychotherapist who would later encourage Bush to paint more freely, with no preconceived ideas; advice that would lay the ground for the artist’s eventual turn to abstraction. He became a member of the Toronto-based Painters Eleven (1953–60), which was instrumental in developing a new audience for abstract painting in Canada. Through this involvement, he met the influential New York City art critic Clement Greenberg, who became an advisor and friend. In time, Greenberg’s influence led to his departure from the prevalent Abstract Expressionist style. In the 1960s, Bush began to simplify his compositions, adopting the technique of thinly applying paint or even staining paint into unprimed canvas, the first of many technical experiments. His mature work is best understood within the movement known as Color Field.

Bush’s colourful abstract paintings are aimed at provoking visceral effects for the viewer, rather than making specific references to the world of appearances. He did not expect the viewer to see the flower or hear the music that inspired him, but rather hoped to evoke an experience of pure, unqualified beauty through his art.

In 1967, Bush represented Canada at the São Paulo Biennial along with Jacques Hurtubise. Bush finally retired from commercial illustration in 1968, allowing him to paint full-time for the remaining nine years of his life. In 1972, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston hosted the first major museum survey of the artist’s work in the US. Four years later, he received the Order of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario held a large retrospective of his work, which toured nationally.

- Activities -

From 15 November 2014 to 19 February 2015
Jack Bush talks
Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm in English and at 1:30 pm in French
Ten-minute talks on a work or theme in the exhibition. Included with admission to the exhibition. Meet in the exhibition space.

Sunday 16 November at 2 pm
Film screening
A screening of the 1979 documentary Jack Bush directed by Murray Battle and produced by Rudy Buttignol. Cinema Productions produced this documentary for the NFB, English Program, Ontario Centre. Jack Bush (1909–1977) is a Canadian artist well-known on the international scene for his colourful abstract paintings from the1950s to the1970s. In English. Free. Lecture Hall. Duration: 56 mins, 5 secs.

Sunday 16 November at 3 pm
Music in the Galleries
Trombonist Peter Turner’s six-piece jazz group will perform Dixieland and swing favourites. Included with admission to the exhibition. Meet in the exhibition space.

From 20 November 2014 to 5 February 2015
Drop-in art activity for adults
Every Thursday from 6 to 7:30 pm
Canadian artist Jack Bush (1909–1977), known internationally for his abstract paintings from the 1950s to the 1970s, is considered a master colourist. We invite you to create an abstract “painting” inspired by the artist’s work, using colourful fabrics. Included with admission to the exhibition. Meet in the exhibition space.

Friday 21 November at noon
Meet the curators
Meet the co-curators of the Jack Bush exhibition, Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada and Dr. Sarah Stanners, independent art historian and author of the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné on the renowned Canadian artist. Included with admission to the exhibition. Meet in the exhibition space.

Saturday 22 November at 2 pm
Jack Bush: Illustrator and Painter - Conversation with Marc Mayer & Sarah Stanners
Jack Bush (1909–1977) is a Canadian artist well-known on the international scene for his colourful abstract paintings from the 1950s to the1970s. The co-curators of the exhibition, Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada and Dr. Sarah Stanners, author of the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné on Jack Bush, will talk about the artist and his work. In English with simultaneous interpretation. Followed by bilingual question period. Free. Auditorium.

From 25 November 2014 to 4 January 2015
Adult Art Tours
Well-known on the international scene, Canadian artist Jack Bush (1909–1977) was a late bloomer in the world of abstract art and a painter who worked by his own rules.
One-hour guided tours of the exhibition Jack Bush are offered to organized groups. Cost: $7 + Gallery admission. Registration required. Telephone: (613) 990-4888.  Email: reservations@gallery.ca

Sunday 18 January from 3pm to 4 pm
Music in the Galleries 
The Voice of Jazz Quartet featuring Peter Liu will perform classic jazz standards inspired by the preferred melodies of Jack Bush.

Sponsored by:

Exhibition Patrons

The National Gallery of Canada Foundation gratefully acknowledges The Polar Foundation, Toronto, for its financial leadership in support of this exhibition.

Generous donations were also received from Rob and Sandra May, Toronto; Kenneth Pustai, Toronto, and the Y.P. Heung Foundation, Vancouver.

These contributions afford essential support for the National Gallery of Canada in its commitment to mounting important Canadian artists’ retrospectives within its national and international program.