New York

Jack Bush

Andre Emmerich Gallery

One looks at the work of certain established artists to learn about respectable taste. The careless drips and angry spatters of their early work sometimes freeze, in their later work, into affectation, solidify as decor. Looking at such work is a lesson about the dangers, to an artist, of too much artistic civility, of growing old too gracefully.

Jack Bush grew old far too gracefully. He was never a great painter to begin with, though he was a competent one, who knew what had to be done at a certain time, and did it. But he never had the nerve to push that knowledge or stretch that ability, and as a result his later paintings, some of which were in this show, fail to attract, let alone hold our interest. In avoiding risks, he also side-stepped the possibility of making art.

Pale, brushy fields of thinned paint, often just shy, of the edges of the canvas, enlivened by a handful of colorful shapes: this is the sum of Bush’s offering. The shapes sometimes have an eccentric geometry to them; often they are simply single brush strokes. Bush allowed himself risks only with color and contrast, selecting combinations which might seem unusual, perhaps even unacceptable by some standards. But how quickly such innovations grow small and unadventurous—too constrained and well-mannered to really count. It was Bush’s misfortune to emerge at the end of a tradition, to inherit the job of tidying up loose ends. He can be commended for his thoroughness, but time passes, and respectable, right-thinking art is not enough.

Thomas Lawson