The 1970s were a period of exceptional creative output for Jack Bush. Although, in the strictest sense, he never fully shared in the aesthetic and conceptual preoccupations of post-painterly abstraction, during the last decade of his life he felt free to further explore ideas outside the realm of Greenbergian ideology. From mid-1969 to 1970, he adopted several new aesthetic practices that led to an important critical evolution. Rather than working on unprimed canvas, he began to prepare the grounds of his paintings. He created a roughly textured, earthily dappled effect by only partially blending his paints so as to leave some of the pigment unabsorbed. Initially, he achieved these mottled grounds by applying the paint over the entire surface of the canvas with a roller; later, he used a sponge. These mottled grounds of the 1970s marked a departure from the deliberate flatness that characterized Bush’s prior work and quietly restored the long-standing figure-ground issue. During this period, he also introduced an unprecedented sense of freedom into the composition of his works, definitively distancing himself from the more densely arranged colour-block formations characteristic of his Sash, Stack, and Fringe paintings.
Summer Gone, painted just one month before the opening of a major retrospective of Bush’s work at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is among his last works. Painted on a rare, dynamically shaped triangular canvas, it is a remarkable example of the freedom of form that Bush displayed at the end of his career. Here, the colour bars of his earlier Fringe paintings have been detached from their compact formations and are scattered across the canvas, opening up the composition and allowing lighter, more playful forms to float freely in space. Mayer notes that “the works of Bush’s last 7 years, almost all painted on mottled grounds, are whimsically rustic, playful and self-deprecating … Many of his most beautiful and challenging pictures were painted on these prepared grounds, vivid and emphatic compositions that grip the eye and divert the mind” (Mayer and Stanners, Jack Bush, National Gallery of Canada, 2014). Other significant works from this period include Symphony on Brown (August 1976), October Gold (November 1976), and Bush’s final work, Chopsticks (January 1977).