George W. Bush’s painting exhibition opened this weekend at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. Dubya’s premiere exhibition revolves around portraits of world leaders from Vladimir Putin to his own father, rendered in Bush’s strangely intriguing figurative style.
Art critic Deborah Solomon stopped by HuffPost Live to give her thoughts on the 43rd president-turned-burgeoning artist. Spoiler alert: she wasn’t particularly impressed.
“I would just like to point out they are basically very simple-minded as paintings,” Solomon explains, stressing the fact that Bush likely projects photographs onto a panel and copies them, a process known to the masses as tracing.
Although Solomon clarifies this technique is a “completely legitimate method” for postmodern contemporary artists, she notes that Bush doesn’t transform his imagery in any way beyond simply copying it. (It’s also unlikely that Bush is partaking in a postmodern exploration of the proliferation of images.)
New York Times art critic Roberta Smith was a bit kinder to Bush in her recent review of his show. “Mr. Bush has an uncanny ability to translate photographs into more awkward images enlivened by distortions and slightly ham-handed brushwork,” she explained. “His skill may be disconcerting for people who love painting and dislike the former president, but still, everyone needs to get a grip, especially those in the art world who dismiss the paintings without even seeing them.”
Perhaps Solomon summed it up best when she concluded, “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.”
But wait! There’s more!
Not only has George Bush stunned the art world with his ability with a paint brush, it now appears the former US president is also a dab hand using internet search engines.
Art critics have pointed out that Bush’s 30 oil paintings of world leaders appear to be have been based upon casual searches of Google Images.
Rather than have his subjects sit for him or use printed photographs, Bush seems to have based his portraits on the first picture thrown up by the search engine.
Critic Greg Allen highlighted the trend in his blog, pointing out that many of the pictures were taken from the subject’s Wikipedia entry. Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair and John Howard were among those to get the Google Image treatment.
“If he had one, it would mean Bush’s studio assistant is very, very lazy,” Allen wrote.
“But in all his discussion of it, Bush’s painting practice appears to be a solitary one. He apparently did not tap the enormous archive of photos, taken by the professionals who followed him every day for eight years, which are contained in his giant library.
“Instead, it seems, he Googled the world leaders he made such impactful relationships with himself, and took the first straight-on headshot he saw.”
Critics have have been rather uncomplimentary about the 43rd US president’s efforts, which have been labelled “unsophisticated” and “dreary.”
One more, this time from Salon:
Former President George W. Bush’s first public art exhibit, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” opened at his presidential library in Dallas on Saturday. The left largely greeted his never-before-seen portraits of world leaders with a mix of derision and fascination.
It would be easy to merely rag on these paintings. Of course they’re terrible; Bush is an amateur painter, and very literal-minded. Commentators have compared the works to coloring-book images and kitsch. Those are fair enough descriptions. But when you take the pictures on their own terms, they also reveal something more interesting about the former president.
Bush has painted caricatures, intended to exaggerate the leaders’ personalities, not necessarily represent their likenesses. He’s not trying to match the impressionist masters, whose portraits — such as Renoir’s of his son in a sailor suit – draw attention to the exquisite details of their subjects’ expressive eyes and mouths. Dubya freely admits his paintings aren’t especially good.
They’re bad partly because he sees the leaders as a child would. He’s incapable, emotionally and technically, of finely observing them and conveying what they’re like independent of his own objectifications. He engages them without subtlety. In these paintings, he’s saying, “This guy’s got a super-neat hat!” (Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai); “this lady is strong!” (Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf); and so on.
I spent the better part of a decade despising George W. Bush. Until Barack Obama came along I thought Bush was easily the worst president ever. It didn’t seem to matter – I’m pretty sure Dubya doesn’t even know I’m alive.
But if I somehow managed to come face-to-face with George Bush I would be polite. I would shake his hand and call him “Mr. President.” If he asked I would admit I didn’t vote for him, but I wouldn’t explain why. I’d do the same thing with Barack Obama.
What would be the point of being rude? If I screamed “WAR CRIMINAL!!!” in Bush’s face the only thing it would accomplish is getting me tackled by the Secret Service.
Many, many years ago I fancied myself to be an artist. Then Santa gave me a drawing pad one Christmas and I tried drawing things. I didn’t need an art critic to tell me that I have no talent for art.
George Bush is a far better artist than me, and even he admits he’s not very good at it. But he doesn’t do it because he’s good, it’s more like a cross between therapy and a way to keep himself busy and active. It’s a just a hobby.
George W. Bush has been out of office for over five years. His political career is over but he’ll probably live a couple more decades. He’s not hurting for money.
Bush was not impeached. He’s never gonna be tried as a war criminal. He left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. It is doubtful that history will be particularly kind to him.
I just don’t understand the point of hating him. There is a reason that hate is listed as one of the seven deadly sins. Hate is an emotion that harms the hater.
Modern progressivism is a hate-filled ideology. It’s not hateful, because it is ostensibly an ideology of peace and love for our fellow humans. But in practice progressives are some of the angriest and hateful people who ever lived.
Don’t be a hater.