ArtworksPhilip SurreyBus Interior, 1965 (circa)1910-1990Sold
Inscriptionssigned, 'Surrey' (recto, lower left)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. A. Crawford Kenny, Toronto.
Private Collection, Toronto.
— Bus Interior is an exceptional and exceptionally unusual composition for Philip Surrey. Surrey’s paintings tended to deal with the anxieties of pedestrians, not those of passengers. It is not uncommon that a bus for him is the antagonist, a threat to the safety of him and other pedestrians.
This, characteristically of Surrey, however, captures the routine of the urban scene, focusing on the loneliness of his characters in what otherwise might be an obvious situation for at least some to relate to another, at minimum making eye contact. In Surrey there is total detachment. Not one of the five is even looking at another. There is a simplicity in the scene emphasized by a limited palette to describe the bus interior and the actors. Surrey obliges a focus upon his stage of five passengers. Surrey contrasts the limited and muted palette describing the interior with a blazingly colourful, light infused, almost psychedelic abstraction implying the city beyond the windows. This treatment adds to the mystery of what Surrey has presented front and centre. His passengers are seated close to each other but who may as well be aisles apart. Each one is in fact alone to his/her own thoughts.
The composition is unusual not only for Surrey but also for other important artists as well. Certainly the most famous of them is Frida Kahlo’s Bus of 1929, a painting that is interpreted in part relating to serious injuries she suffered in a bus accident a few years before she painted this now iconic work. Then, the artist to whom we have often compared Philip Surrey, Edward Hopper, looking at his remarkable painting Chair Car, a scene of the interior of a train car and a work of the same vintage as Bus Interior is clearly evocative of his lifelong obsession in painting with loneliness and solitude. Although Hopper and Surrey are stylistically entirely different, in mood, temperament and by the way in some of their habits too, they are extraordinarily similar.