LOT 018

1909 - 1977

Scoop Totem
acrylic polymer on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated Dec. 1973 and inscribed "Toronto" /" Top" (with arrow) / "Acrylic Polymer W.B."
87 1/2 x 47 1/2 in, 222.3 x 120.7 cm

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

Sold for: $241,250

Preview at:

David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto
Acquired from the above by an Important Private Collection, Toronto, April 1974

Marc Mayer and Sarah Stanners, Jack Bush, National Gallery of Canada, 2014, reproduced page 35

David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto, Jack Bush: Recent Paintings, 1974

Painted at the end of 1973, Scoop Totem is among Jack Bush’s last few classic Totem paintings. By 1974, he was experimenting with formats that stepped away from the emphatically vertical figures that define this series. Grey Arc, for example, is a mural-sized horizontal painting, measuring nearly five metres long, and while it does terminate with a scoop-like shape, it is dramatically horizontal and therefore not “totemic” in the strictest sense. In all cases, however, this distinctive series is characterized by mottled grounds that backdrop slender stacks of vibrant colour, smooth on one side and ragged on the other, which are remarkably similar in appearance to the strokes of colour seen in the felt-tipped marker sketches that Bush often made in advance of painting.

When the David Mirvish Gallery in Toronto scheduled a solo show for Bush to open in the spring of 1974, the artist was motivated to produce a cohesive set of paintings that would hang well together, just as he had been prompted to paint his London series for Waddington Galleries that same spring. While the London paintings were made for his show abroad, the Totems were made for Toronto. In a 1969 interview with Bush, Dennis Reid inquired about the artist’s methods for choosing works for his exhibitions. Bush underlined that a deciding factor in which paintings went to which show was “the physical nature of the galleries” and that his paintings “were chosen to make a show that would work in that physical space…”[1] Five years later, Bush had perfected the art of making an impactful exhibition through the thoughtful execution of a body of work that was not only interrelated stylistically but also sensitive to the environment in which it was destined to be displayed.

Another uniting characteristic of the Totem paintings is their sheer enormity. In the Totem series’ debut exhibition, Grey Arc was just one of three paintings that measured over four metres long. Bush’s paintings benefited from the Mirvish Gallery’s double-wide lot, occupied by two 2½-storey semi-detached Victorian houses that, through the design and planning of John Andrews Architects, were combined to form a singular space. The ceiling soared at 596 Markham Street, and the span of the space was specially made for big, show-stopping abstract paintings and sculptures.

As many Torontonians will remember, Frank Stella’s massive 1970 painting Damascus Gate, Stretch Variation, measuring 3 by 15.2 metres, was a perfect fit against the west-facing wall for decades. In a 1971 review of an exhibition of Anthony Caro’s sculptures at the Mirvish Gallery, the New York Times remarked that this setting was “particularly advantageous for Caro’s work,” adding that “the gallery might well be the envy of cramped New York establishments.”[2] In Bush’s exhibition, at least eight paintings, including Scoop Totem, stood more than two metres tall. To enter this exhibition must have felt exhilarating.

Most of the Totems that were included in the Mirvish Gallery show have a short and tidy provenance, remaining with the buyer who first acquired the painting 50 years ago. A few of the paintings from this seminal exhibition made it to museums by way of gift, including to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Scoop Totem has remained in the same esteemed private collection since it left the exhibition on Markham Street in April 1974. Like a hidden gem brought to light, Scoop Totem is a bright and exciting painting, ready for new surroundings.

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 adjunct 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.

1. Jack Bush quoted in Dennis Reid, “Galerie Godard Lefort, Montreal, February–March 1969,” artscanada 26, no. 2 (April 1969): 43–44.

2. James R. Mellow, “How Caro Welds Metal and Influences Sculpture,” New York Times, July 18, 1971, section D, 21.

Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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