LOT 016

1909 - 1977

Yellow Road Mark
acrylic polymer on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated December 1969 and inscribed "Toronto"
46 1/2 x 27 1/2 in 118.1 x 69.8 cm

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Collection of the Artist
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
The Pollock Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Boston

Jack Bush painted Yellow Road Mark in December 1969, at the very end of the biggest change-making decade of the twentieth century. Disruption of the norm was everywhere, including in art. Pop Art had taken ahold of the 1960s, and even Bush’s rather eccentric colour-field paintings engaged with some of the same tenets that artists like Andy Warhol were practising. While Warhol turned celebrities into icons, Bush’s paintings summoned the adulation of abstraction in bold shapes of colour. The yellow arrow is a positive, everyday icon, driving us forward.

Initially titled Road Mark #1 Yellow, Yellow Road Mark is the first in a highly original series of Road Mark paintings by Bush. Altogether there are seven extant paintings in this series, spanning the years 1969 to 1970. They all feature the words “Road Mark” in their titles, thus indicating their inspiration, and semi-abstract markings against a background that is evocative of asphalt, in various shades of grey. However, upon close examination, the ground on Yellow Road Mark is not strictly neutral. This grey ground has ghostly but beautiful daubs and short strokes of pastel colours – pink, yellow and blue. The same pops of colour amid the grey background are present in Red Road Mark, from February 1970, but they are exclusively short and confetti-like in shape and also include orange and green, unlike those in Yellow Road Mark.

Though far less organized – or optical – these colourful inclusions in Yellow Road Mark recall the 1960s dot and ellipses paintings by the New York–based painter Larry Poons, yet Poons’s dots were set against monochrome grounds. Bush first created the seemingly textured grey ground that characterizes his Road Mark series in October 1969 with a painting titled Irish Rock #2, made just two months before Yellow Road Mark. Irish Rock #2 also flaunts a distinct sign – this time a large white cross hovering above a fringe of colour.

Both Irish Rock #2 and Yellow Road Mark were born in the mind of the artist when he traveled through Ireland with his wife, Mabel. They made the trip to attend the opening of Bush’s solo show at Waddington Galleries in London, which opened on September 4, 1969. On their travels through the Emerald Isle, they saw stone walls and rocks with painted symbols, often in white or yellow, which indicated the property lines along farmers’ fields and general directions for roads and trailways. Such signs are commonly termed “waymarkers” or “marker stones,” and the yellow arrow is a regular symbol found painted on monoliths or walls.

Road signs are characteristically bold in colour and universal in their symbolism. It is not hard to imagine that Bush was fascinated by the idea of bold shapes of colour guiding movement and signaling limits, all set against a natural ground. The contrast is stimulating, and replicating this on canvas challenged the usual association of Colour Field painting with flatness. Bush flips the viewer’s expectations even further by not actually creating texture in his grounds; texture is only simulated. It is the natural world in abstraction.

The yellow arrow indicates a way forward and the same is true in the case of Bush’s abstract paintings. Yellow Road Mark provided a new (aesthetic) way forward for both the rest of the paintings in this series and his painting methods. At the end of 1969, the Irish Rock and Road Mark paintings launched the mottled ground approach in the artist’s practice. The mottled ground – which Bush eventually mastered with a roller brush – became a successful mainstay in the artist’s work through the 1970s.

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 assistant 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.

Estimate: $125,000 - $175,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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