Skip to main content

Jack Bush

Born 1909, Toronto.  Died 1977

Jack Bush studied at Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Earning his living as a commercial graphic artist for much of his life, Bush is nevertheless known today as Canada's leading exponent of North American colour-field painting. In 1953 he was a founding member of the 'Painters Eleven', a group of Canadian artists who sought to explore the potential of abstract art.

A distinct form of abstraction, colour-field painting, as its name suggests, privileges colour as the most important element in the construction of a visual language. An encounter with the American critic Clement Greenberg had a deep impact on Bush's artistic direction. Instrumental for Greenberg was the 'self-refinement' of painting. Painting, said Greenberg, ought only to explore within its practice those properties uniquely its own; the flat surface, forms and (most importantly for Bush) the fundamental qualities of pigment.

In a gesture similar to Greenberg's preferred artists - Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis - Bush moved away from thickly textured brushstrokes to an immediate encounter with colour and light. Using a technique called 'stain painting', familiar to these artists, Bush applied paint directly onto an 'un-primed', raw canvas. The absence of a prime coat of gesso in this method means that the paint is absorbed into the fibres of the canvas. In Bush's work, colour no longer sits on the surface of a canvas; it is part of what structures and is embodied within the material itself. With Bush, the result is a sensuous, almost satiny, finish. A good example of this use of pigment is the Sash series of the 1960s.

An excellent discussion of the context of Bush's interpretation of colour-field painting and its relation to other types of post-painterly abstraction is present in Daniel Wheeler's Art Since Mid-Century, London, Thames and Hudson 1991. For a more specific study of an individual work from the Sash series see

Red Sash, New York
Charcoal Band
Joseph's Coat
Nice Pink