Friday, February 08, 2013

George Bush's "Bad" Paintings Are Actually Pretty Great

(Images via The Smoking Gun)

This post might surprise you! I've written before about politicos making terrible paintings (here and here), so you may have expected me to do the same with the artworks by George W. Bush revealed this morning by The Smoking Gun.

Truth is, however, that I think they're interesting and even kind of great. The application of paint is unlearned, and the anatomy is awkward, but the compositions are counter-intuitive, and even sophisticated*, and the use of color quite nice, indeed. These paintings remind me quite a bit of work by Neil Jenney and even more of Alex Katz, with perhaps a little bit of Alice Neel thrown in for good measure. I don't make these comparisons in jest.


A little mistrustful of my own judgement, I showed them to several of my coworkers, and all agreed that they were creative and unorthodox... in a good way (one even brought up Alex Katz before I had a chance to). One important curator, who I probably shouldn't identify too obviously here, described them as "imaginative, crude, and revealing!"

The subject matter is compelling: both contain running water, show the subject in a very private, enclosed location, and both address issues of cleansing oneself. Considering Bush's obsession with reinventing his own legacy, I can't help but identify these paintings as excruciatingly personal and meaningful, just what we hope for in self portraits.

So go for it, George Bush; for once in my life, I'm rooting for you.

*I'm particularly impressed with how he handled the upper left-hand corner of the shower painting. The shadow cast by the hinge is wonderfully observed, and the whole area brilliantly balances the figure in the lower right. The strong diagonals counterbalance the vertical of the stream of water and relieve the grid created by the shower tiles (as does the shaving mirror). This is excellent composition!

UPDATE: Pony Pal Greg, who shared his thoughts on the paintings with Gawker, told me, "I'm glad I wasn't completely bonkers in thinking about Neel."

14 comments:

Fran said...

I must agree. I am fascinated with the whole shower/bath thing. Quite interesting indeed. Ol' Dubya - who knew?

Anonymous said...

The compositions are surprisingly good. Good point that both involve cleansing water. And no direct sight of his face. I do like the one of his legs in the bathtub.

The Cat's Meow said...

All I can think of is Jerry Sandusky.

Muscato said...

I saw Katz right off, but hadn't though about Neel. You're quite right. I would actually like to see more of his work...

Ergo said...

"The subject matter is compelling: both contain running water, show the subject in a very private, enclosed location, and both address issues of cleansing oneself."

Are we talking about art here or waterboarding?

Anonymous said...

Genius SP -- At the risk of being serious, I can't make up my mind about this "art" by Dubya; it seems like yet another "Onion" takeoff. True, these water-infatuated paintings have a "theme" (how more self-evident, in-your-face can you get than with H2O meme), just enough for artistically "naive" persons like myself to consider Dubya's paintings "genuine" art -- genueyenne "W" art. If indeed produced by the arguably most vulgar/"dirty" amoral American president in our history, who got us into two senseless wars and a Great Recession (I won't say that Hitler liked to paint),assisted by an even more vulgar (if such is possible), amoral war criminal "Secret-ary of State," perhaps these GWB paintings reflect an effort on the part of a mindless former preppy faux Texan Andover cheerleader, if he indeed has a "conscience," to cleanse himself of his crimes ("all the perfumes of Arabia" ... need I quote the entire line). I suspect, however, that if in fact produced by our former president in the hope of giving himself a good moral bath, and no matter their "revelations" about GWB, "chosen" to lead the nation thanks to electoral fraud in Florida (as many have pointed out) these works of "art," will eventually be used, if used at all, to sell some kind of cheap soap in supermarkets to keep us all "clean."

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to me that while other ex-presidents have gone on to do amazing things (Carter and Clinton come to mind), Dubya is busy painting himself in the bathroom. Maybe it's because he's afraid to go out in public for fear of being arrested for war crimes, so this is all he can do with his life. In any case, he's a despicable, narcissist - whether he can kind of paint or not.

ad astra said...

Peteykins, your eye has failed you for the first time ever. Definitely NOT Alice Neel, whose portraits are acutely observed; not Katz, whose simplifications are stylish & elegant. Not Jenny either, whose energetic paint application & crazy compositions are kind of thrilling. I'd say that for a painter, Bush is a pretty good Air National Guard pilot.

Aunt Snow said...

I rather like the bathtub one.

I'm amused by the psychoanalyzing and I enjoy doing a little myself - the metaphors of cleansing off blood, the narcissism of mirror gazing, the bizarre choice to paint a self-portrait in the bath - all fun to talk about. it would be fascinating if there were a larger body of shower/bath/water portraits discovered.

The image that occurs to me with the bath painting is the dying Marat in his bath. Just think if Bush painted himself cut while shaving!!!

OTOH, who can know why George Bush chose to paint himself in the bath and in the shower? He may have been doing it as a joke.

Lulu Maude said...

I thought they were sort of fun. Unlikely mirror image at the angle posted, but they were a hell of a lot better than his presidency.

Has the Dickster taken up tatting?

dianegsocialist said...

Comment on some of the comments -- It's amazing to me that some of us are so binary about people: they either fit into the "good" category or the "bad" category and everything they do is judged on that placement. To my mind, it's perfectly acceptable for someone to be a despicable human being in most respects but have a good eye and an interesting point of view as an artist.

At the same time, I feel the contradiction acutely: for a mass-murdering dry-drunk child of privilege with no connection to any consequence for his actions, he makes interesting art... eep!

Matthew Hubbard said...

I haven't been checking in with my blog buddies recently, a foolish mistake. The comments here, as always, are interesting.

I can't comment on the technique, but the hobby itself is unusual. It makes me wonder how lonely the guy is.

I assume he can still make money giving speeches, though you never hear about them in the news. He's not like Cheney or Condi, both of whom think the world needs to hear their opinions of what a great job they did.

The portrait of Barney is my favorite to look at, but the self-portraits have more to consider, in a creepy sort of way.

Aperson said...

What a post! GW is a person after all. People are the problem: percieved and otherwise...

samael7 said...

Ah, George Bush's "Lady MacBeth" period.