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Charles William Bush (1919–1989)

by David Keys

This article was published:

Charles William Bush (1919-1989), artist, was born on 23 November 1919 at Brunswick East, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Andrew Charles Thomas Bush, signwriter, and his wife Alice Maude, née Rohsburn. Charles’s younger brother Gordon was accidentally killed in 1929 and his mother was to die in 1936. He attended Coburg East State and Coburg High schools, and worked with his father but their relationship was not an easy one. At the age of 14 he gained a place at the National Gallery schools, where he won several prizes and met a fellow student Phyllis Paulina Waterhouse (1917-1989). His father disapproved of the trend his work was taking so he moved in with Phyl and her parents at Essendon. The two young artists rented a studio and began living together; they were to be married on 21 June 1979 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne.

In 1939 Bush held his first exhibition. Called up in July 1941 for full-time duty with the Militia, he served in an artillery survey unit, carried out camouflage work and helped produce service publications. By 1943 he was employed as a war artist. He painted in Papua and New Guinea and, after its liberation, on Timor. Having transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in 1943, he finished his service on 23 October 1946 as a lieutenant. A British Council grant in 1949 enabled him to travel to London and study with Bernard Meninsky. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and toured France, Spain, Italy and the Middle East.

Back in Melbourne, Bush was a drawing master at the National Gallery schools in 1953-54 and a member of the Australian cultural delegation to China in 1956. From 1959 to 1962 he hosted an afternoon television show, `My Fair Lady’, in which he commented, sometimes caustically, on the dress and appearance of women. In 1961 he visited Malaya to record on canvas the activities of the Royal Australian Air Force at Butterworth. He accepted commissions as an art critic and adviser. With Phyl Waterhouse and June Davies, he founded in 1962 the Leveson Street Gallery, North Melbourne (Carlton from 1979), which gave young artists encouragement and honest criticism.

Energetic and committed, Bush confidently and enthusiastically embraced painting and considered himself fortunate to be an artist. His knowledge of his profession was profound. One of the few to make a living at the easel, he endured with equanimity times of struggle and enjoyed his increasing success. He painted or drew in his North Melbourne studio nearly every day, and exhibited in Australia and overseas. As a watercolourist he had few equals. His paintings won more than fifty awards, including three (George) Crouch prizes (1945, 1952 and 1961) and two Wynne prizes (1952 and 1955). Examples of his work are in the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, most State and regional galleries, and numerous corporate and private collections throughout the world.

Bush was excellent company and a great raconteur. With his sharp wit, flair for the apt word or phrase and forthright delivery, he delighted in deflating the pompous or the boring, but supported and encouraged the sincere. In addition to art, he expressed his passion for life through a love of the sea, the Australian landscape, literature and classical music. He had a very good voice and often sang while painting. Predeceased by his wife, he died of ischaemic heart disease on 13 November 1989 at Footscray and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Charles Bush: Self-Portraits 1936-1986 (1994)
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Apr 1962, p 18
  • Independent (London), 17 Nov 1989, p 14
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Gallery, Feb 1990, p 18
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

David Keys, 'Bush, Charles William (1919–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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