Apr 12, 2014

George W. Bush, portrait artist

Billie's "painting" of Bush from an existing photo
"I think a lot of us wish he had become a painter as opposed to a president. We all could have been saved a lot of trouble." --art critic Deborah Solomon.

I once heard a simile about George W. Bush that stayed with me. It was that he was like a teenager who stole his father's car and crashed it into a brick wall.

The eight years of the Bush administration were a nightmare. I wound up spending a lot of time on left wing internet sites because I was so frustrated with what was happening. Since Bush left office and retired to Dallas, I've mostly just longed for him to go away. Please go away, George W. Bush! Ftt ftt! Depart! I have refused to read about him or acknowledge his continued existence, and I certainly didn't read his book or go see that W movie about him.

And then a few months ago, I started seeing articles about his new hobby: painting. For the past week in particular, we've been inundated with articles and news segments about an exhibit of his portraits of world leaders that just opened at the Bush presidential library. (This article probably has the most reproductions from the exhibit, if you'd like to take a look.)

So for my first political post, I decided that I wanted to write about Bush and his paintings. I have a strong interest in art and some knowledge about it, and it seemed like the perfect topic.

Bush's works are interesting and passable technically. He's a marginally talented amateur, but his works are immature, lacking depth and creativity. As mentioned in several of the articles I read this week, his portraits look exactly like he projected existing photos on canvas and traced them before painting them. The fact that Bush chose to do portraits of world leaders that included a prominent self-portrait suggests to me that he was making a narcissistic, defensive public statement, like: "I'm a world leader, too! I really am! How come people keep saying my presidency was a failure? I don't get it!"

The subjects of his art are bothersome, too. He doesn't just paint primitive, simplistic portraits of world leaders that he traced from photographs. He paints himself in the shower. He paints his own feet sticking out in the bathtub. He paints dogs. Not that there's anything wrong with painting dogs, but shouldn't a former world leader expressing himself through art have more to say artistically than that? If there was anything going on inside him that resembled introspection, wouldn't he paint about a serious topic that affected him? I don't know, like 9/11? War? Hurricane Katrina? Crashing the nation's economy?

And then I realized what was really bothering me about these paintings. Maybe Bush isn't that bad an artist, after all. I'm still just harboring a buttload of liberal rage about the terrible things he did during his presidency, and that HE GOT AWAY WITH IT. George W. Bush gets to lounge around his luxurious house in Dallas and paint pictures of his feet. And the media reports it like it's actually news worth reporting.

If Bush lied in order to start a war, if he is guilty of war crimes, he should be in prison making special friends with Roscoe the weightlifter. Geez Louise, they're still talking about torture under the Bush administration in the news this week. Yes, Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, supposedly for the sake of the nation, and I get why Obama decided not to pursue prosecution. But what Nixon did was breaking and entering tiddleywinks in comparison to what Bush did. And Nixon had to resign in disgrace. At least he was self-aware enough to retire quietly and stay out of the public eye. Bush can't even do that. (Did I just say something nice about Nixon? I think I did.)

How to conclude this rant? Hard to say. At least by the act of actually writing about it, I finally realized why seeing all these articles about Bush's paintings has disturbed me so much. Bush is still the teenager who stole his father's car and crashed it into a brick wall. What is bothering me is that he is still getting away with it.


ChrisB said...

What a great piece! He's a marginally talented amateur, but his works are immature, lacking depth and creativity. An apt metaphor for Bush's presidency.

I get so frustrated when others try to tell me that, although the man had his faults, Bush was not on the same par as Nixon. They’re right; he was much worse. If we put aside Watergate (and I believe that Nixon deserved to resign in disgrace), the man was one hell of a leader. Not so much a nice guy, but he ran the country with some aplomb. Let’s not forget who it was that put China back in the game. When I think of the eight Bush years, I can’t think of anything he did that comes close to that achievement.

What he did was create Homeland Security. One of my family’s closest friends worked for the “government” for over thirty years. It all started when he was an officer in Vietnam. A few years ago, during a late night of too much whiskey and too many cigarettes, my brother and I tried to get him to tell us what he done during his career. He looked at us and said, “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.” We all laughed, but he was only half kidding.

When TPTB tried to make him one of the higher-ups at Homeland Security, he retired early rather than have any part of it. That one act told me all I needed to know.

sunbunny said...

Every time I see Bush's face or hear his voice, I jump a little. Like oh no not you again. I came of age during the Bush years. I remember Clinton being president and something to do with a woman named Monica but at the time think I was…9?

Honestly what's bothered me more than Bush's look at me I'm a painter now thing is that new footage of Rumsfield talking about torture. He's laughing and dismissing everything and it just makes me want to punch a wall. Or his face.

sunbunny said...

Oh, and to be fair to Bush (ew), Nixon was a terrible racist. Maybe Nixon was the better president (he opened relations with China, founded the EPA) but the worse person?

CrazyCris said...

That seems like the perfect simile to describe W!

Can't stand him either, never could! I will give him this: because of that snafoo with hanging chads in Florida, I finally figured out (somewhat) how the US electoral system works! If only because I had to explain the whole thing to anyone I met who knew I was an American (when I was living in Belgium). No one could understand how he had won and begged me to explain... Yeah, I'm still not sure I understand that... *sigh*

Billie Doux said...

CrazyCris, the electoral thing in the U.S. is a mess. Every state has its own voting laws, which is why several states with Republican governors are actively trying to suppress the vote right now and to some extent, getting away with it. Every district has its own type of voting machine, too.

We need national voting laws and we need them to be enforced. But Republicans don't want that. They're almost outright saying, yes, we have to cheat to win, and we're okay with that because the ends justify the means.

Sooze said...

It's not just the electoral thing - it's the $$ - Sheldon Adelson anyone? (and the Supreme Court not helping one bit), the continued gerrymandering, and voter suppression (which, again, the Supreme Court did not help)...I can't for the life of me understand why people aren't more outraged. Have you seen Bill Maher's "flip a district"? I can't wait to see if they really pull that off...

Billie Doux said...

Well, *I'm* outraged. I hadn't heard about "flip a district", but it sounds terrific. Hope it works.


Kayne said...

I just saw this older post. Don't if you still read the comments?

Anyway, a left-wing newspaper in Switzerland (actually, the only one..) did a nice april's fool article about this.

They said there was a boiling diplomatic crisis between the US and Switzerland, because GW had offered 4 of his paintings as a gift to Switzerland after a hospital stay.. and the person responsible for the national art collection had decided to put them in the only museum where they would make sense: in the Art Brut museum, where the only exhibited pieces are from people "safe of artistic culture", e.g. strong psychological cases or marginals unaware that they are making art :)

thought I might share :)

in case you read french, here's the whole article:


Billie Doux said...

Kayne, I read every comment -- it's never too late to post one. And I do read some French. I'll check out that article.