With its thin layers of paint, color-saturated canvas and the clean contours of simple shapes, Toronto-based painter Jack Bush’s Spin Off Blue embodies Post-Painterly Abstraction. The famed art critic Clement Greenberg coined the term as an alternative to the term “Color Field” and “Hard-Edge” to describe the state of “linear clarity” and “openness” in abstract painting in 1960s made in reaction to the “density” and “compactness” of marks made by American Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s. Greenberg’s 1964 exhibition of the same name surveyed American and Canadian painters and placed Bush’s work in conversation with paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, and Kenneth Noland, among others. Bush maintained a lasting relationship with Greenberg, who championed the painter throughout his career. By the time of his death in 1977, only a year after this painting was made, he had established himself as the most important Canadian artist of his generation and had also earned an international reputation.
Spin Off Blue displays all the signs of a mature painter dedicated to the craft of deliberate composition. The ground of the painting was applied with a sponge to render its fine, painterly finish. The artist’s hand is revealed through a variety of touches, such as the bare canvas that frames the edge of the painting. An essential part of the composition, this effect exhibits the restraint to refrain from the “all-overness” of the generation of painters before him. In a clever play on words in paint, the curved, brush-stroke shapes “spin off” the blue circle off-center in the middle of the canvas in a rainbow of muted colors that expand in a diagonal line toward opposite corners of the canvas. According to Terry Fenton, curator of Bush’s 1976 retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Edmonton, paintings such as Spin Off Blue “represent a culmination and distillation of the Art Nouveau arabesque, an arabesque now shorn of its enclosing and symbolizing tendency to release its inherent decorative potential and create a pictorial vocabulary of enormous flexibility and expressive power. The paintings seem literally drawn with color. Color rhythms, rhythmic drawing and swirling, dancing grounds combine to produce some of the most lyrical art since Matisse” (T. Fenton, Jack Bush: A Retrospective, Edmonton, 1976, n.p.).