“A Commander in Chief paints what he has to paint”
Some people didn’t believe me when I first shared the leaked paintings of George W. Bush. One friend replied on facebook, “it’s bull. come on!!” But it was true, and even The New York Times covered it. A hacker managed to access one of Bush’s sister’s email accounts, and within it, some pics of Bush’s new paintings in progress. So Bush really does paint. Yes he does.
In fact, there’s nothing left to doubt or speculation. My friend challenged me, “Hey, look … if you can’t find a statement by him, saying ‘This is my art’ than it’s most likely bogus”. Well, that was back in February, and now we have the video below which ends all debate
(it’s worth the watch).
As it turns out, I was at first too dismissive of Bush’s art. I thought it just plain sucked. I believed the only remarkable thing about it was that it was below what I would consider average for a rank beginner receiving private lessons. His perspectival anomalies and ham-fisted brushwork seemed like the visual equivalent of his mastery of English grammar and idioms. The only ones worthy of bothering with at all were the self-portraits, because they were unintentionally goofy. It’s one thing to paint a poodle with one eye in the middle of it’s head, and the other blossoming out the side, but to render oneself with such a skill-set is a true curiosity. We naturally enjoy seeing how others view themselves through their own eyes, and it’s that much more interesting when the person in question is one of the most famous and powerful of all time, particularly when his artistic self-appraisal is a butchery. Now I’ve come to realize, I may have been biased against him because of his insistence on taking the country to war when there were no WMDs… In a word, I misunderestimated him. For example, he did the painting below, of a dog in-front of the White House, which is just OK, as opposed to horrendous. It’s the type of thing that if a friend had made it, and I didn’t want to be a complete bunghole, I could probably pretend to not hate.
At least here the artist used a site he had unique access to as a background. It would be, for example, a royal pain in the ass for me to paint a dog in front of the White House, because I live in Thailand (not for ulterior purposes, incidentally). It might also be a nod to one of my favorite paintings by Edouard Manet, which shows two girls and a dog in front of the vertical bars of a fence. I’m not saying Bush was attempting to update it, or make any sort of artistic comment on it, but he might have seen it before and thought it was good, and maybe it occurred to him to do something like that with the bars in front of the White House.
Wait, as I was editing this, I came across an even better dog. Sure, its back looks a bit like a Rhino, and as a whole the dog looks like some sort of strapless shoulder bag, or like it’s got a rug flung over it, but the shadow is pretty good. Oh shit, it really DOES have a rug flung over it.
And then, there’s the picture below of Bush at his easel, painting some generic landscape which doesn’t look all that bad. I mean, it looks like once he were to finish it, it might be tolerably boring. Also, in the photo Bush doesn’t even look like he’s guilty of war crimes or nothin’. If I were his neighbor and I was out walking MY schnauzer (named “Fred”), and he was having a barbecue or something, I’d probably say, “Howdy”.
What really changed my mind about Bush’s art – though not necessarily his presidency – was the way in which he revised his self-portrait paintings. The self-portrait standing in the bathroom got a complete about-face, which shows a surprising ability to reevaluate the course one’s taking, and switch directions. It almost seems like a metaphor for the president taking stock of a situation, admitting his errors, making amends, setting a new course, and faithfully following through. Instead of turning his back on the world and merely looking at his own reflection, he portrayed himself standing naked facing the world, with nothing to hide. Below is the revised painting.
The reworking of the bathtub painting also showcases the former president’s surprising capacity to look at himself objectively, even with humor. His introduction of the toy ducky into the composition attests to his (and all of our) connections to childhood. More interestingly, the rising bubbles suggest a certain adolescent mischievousness that previously only had the world theater as an outlet to inflict itself upon. Here we can see the former leader deliberately trying to capsize the ducky. This rather philosophical depiction of natural human cruelty suggests a probable admission of guilt for past, careless wrong-doings.
The finalized self-portraits of George W. Bush convey a degree of humanity and self-reflection most thought him incapable of. If history does not vindicate his reputation, perhaps these paintings will.
by Eric Wayne
Now available as greeting cards!
Perhaps Bill Clinton could reconsider commissioning Bush to paint his nude portrait. In the video below, Clinton makes jokes about Bush’s paintings.