These days some of the best abstract painting is also the most fun. In the 1960s, the lightness of Jack Bush was seriously ahead of its time. Born in Toronto, Canada in 1909, Bush took the low road to high modernism and largely bypassed the heaviness of European abstraction. Eventually he entered the orbit of the Color Field painters and Clement Greenberg, who became a champion and placed him alongside Hans Hofmann, Adolph Gottlieb, and David Smith.
"Bush could draw, and 'place,' and design, like an angel," Greenberg wrote. "There was also his playfulness. He put into his pictures such things as travel souvenirs, flags, road signs, emblems, knowing well enough that they weren't supposed to belong in canonically abstract art. ... he took the risk of looking eccentric."
Greenberg once said that Bush's "apparent awkwardness" made him "one of the most eye-testing artists of our time." This claim was put to the test in "Jack Bush: New York Visit," the exhibition at FreedmanArt.
Jack Bush, Sing, Sing, Sing (1974); Acrylic on canvas; 68 x 114 3/4 inches
Bush's awkwardness seems more natural today than it did when new, but his work is no less "eye-testing." His colors are battery powered. His paint application is luminous. His shapes are unashamed. Bush was an artist who came of age relatively late in his career, but he somehow managed to keep that long gestation from weighing him down. He was a mature painter who found a way to make playful and seemingly naive art.
Jack Bush, Three Up (1968); Acrylic on canvas; 82 x 42, Collection Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Mrs. Alison Fisher, 1988.
It's little surprise that Bush, who died in 1977, is now cherished up north, where one of his paintings recently made it onto a Canadian stamp. Regrettably he's far less known here. All the more reason to give his eye-testing appearance in New York a serious look.
Last Chance: "Jack Bush: New York Visit" opened at Freedman Art, New York, on February 18 and remains on view through today, April 28, 2012. (73rd Street; above Via Quadronno and the best cappuccino in town.)