Tuesday, 2 April 2013

George ‘Dubya’ Walker Bush, an Artist Revealed.

Love him or hate him, which people seemingly do, George ‘Dubya’ Walker Bush, the 43rd president of the US from January 2001-2009, had to contend with tough times during his presidency, which were not of his doing. 
  •   He came to power in January 2001 during the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the dot-com bubble. 
  • 11 September 2001 Islamist terrorist attacks in Washington DC and New York led to the loss of almost 3000 lives. 
  • In 2007, the United States suffered the worst financial crisis and recession since World War II as a result of the sub-prime mortgage scandal, collapse of banks and huge hikes in oil prices. Bush’s ratings subsequently fell as low as 19% in 2008.
  • Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 caused devastation, flooding and death on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans in particular: at least 1,833 people died. Bush’s handling of the crisis was highly criticised.
Bush’s announcement of a ‘War on Global Terror’ after 9/11 led to the highest approval ratings of 90% for any president since WWII. The ratings endorsed Bush’s decisiveness in retaliation for 9/11 by going to war less than a month later, on 7 October: bombing by US and British forces led to the invasion of Afghanistan on 13 November 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Bush came to be blamed for the recession, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his handling of the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, his authorisation of *waterboarding for interrogating suspects and just about anything else. He is still the butt of journalists, comedians and others: he was constantly mocked for a supposed lack of intelligence and also for his linguistic gaffes, known as Bushisms. 

He ended his presidency second only to President Nixon in unpopularity. The prolonged war in Afghanistan and the deaths of 575 American armed forces in Afghanistan during Bush’s two terms contrast with public attitudes towards Obama who seems to have escaped opprobrium so far; under whose presidency 1,405 armed forces have died in Afghanistan.

George ‘Dubya’ Walker Bush is the son of Barbara and George H. W. Bush, the 41st US president from 1989-1993. He was born in Connecticut in 1946, read history at Yale for his MA and graduated from Harvard Business School, the first president so far with an MBA.   He became a fighter pilot, founded oil exploration companies and co-owned and ran the Texas Rangers baseball team. He was the governor of Texas from 1995-2000, where he has the distinction of having executed more prisoners - 152- than any other governor in modern history. This inclement attitude to capital punishment sits oddly with his speech to the National Republican Convention in August 2000 before he became president:  

“I will lead our nation toward a culture that values life -- the life of the elderly and the sick, the life of the young, and the life of the unborn”.

Since leaving the White House in 2009 George W Bush published his memoirs, Decision Points in 2010 and has otherwise had a low profile. He is an avid reader of history books, plays golf and goes fishing. When his favourite dog Barney, a Scottish terrier died on 1 February this year he posted the news on Facebook:

“Barney was by my side during our eight years in the White House. He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend.”


The ex-president also released a painting of Barney, which alerted the public to the fact that Bush had taken up painting: it recently emerged that he had a month’s tuition for six hours a day from art teacher Bonnie Flood. Bush signs his paintings 43, which refers to his time as the 43rd president. The painting is good, and shows a lot of care and love has gone into the character of the dog and his appearance.

Unjustifiably a few days after Barney's death a hacker called Guccifer invaded Bush family emails and presumably sold photographs of Bush’s paintings to The Smoking Gun which published two selections. A dignified silence from the Bush family has ensued and an FBI investigation is under way. The most interesting paintings are of Barney outside the White House and two fascinating self-portraits in a shower and a bath.

"In no painting is it more obvious that Bush is the dogs than in this one, in which a terrier contemplates the White House from outside the gates. Bush is now cut off from the job and the home that defined him". Elspeth Reeve, of The Atlantic, like some other critics, imagines that Bush has painted himself as a dog, but it is more likely that Bush shows Barney might be musing peacefully on his old home for nine years.
 Bush’s favourite subjects are dogs: others are cats, horses, still lifes, landscapes and buildings of a ranch and a chapel.  He became a born-again Christian early in his marriage, converting from Episcopal to United Methodism in 1977. There is a charming little painting of an altar with a cross further down.

The paintings were never meant for public view and it is totally wrong that now Bush’s detractors are having a field day in pulling them to pieces and analysing them to fit their theories. 

Travis Diehl, for example, a supposed art critic, lets bias get in the way of criticism: 

“The bathroom paintings, for example, ooze guilt. They’re all about cleansing, à la Lady Macbeth; or they’re full of remorse for everything from Katrina to waterboarding”…Bush’s oeuvre comes closer to the works at Boston’s Museum of Bad Art, or Jim Shaw’s collection of thrift store paintings”.
"More impressive than the painting's aesthetic quality is the soul-searching introspection evident in the scene. Bush, slightly hunched, is standing out of the water, staring off into the corner of the shower, as if contemplating past sins that can never be washed away, no matter how much soap you use and how hard you scrub". Dan Amira, New York Magazine.

"Man in Shower." by Michael Schaffer.

"This painting—evidently a self-portrait—depicts the former president in a shower, his reflection visible in a shaving mirror. Though superficially an image of an everyday activity, the painting also points to an inner turmoil over one of the biggest calamities of the Bush administration: Hurricane Katrina. Consider the composition. The subject of the painting is not actually under the water. Physically, he stands back, reticent, his body still dry. In the shaving mirror, he watches from above, as if surveying the scene from an aircraft, a vaguely confused look on his face. That Bush would allude to Katrina in a painting ostensibly depicting an act of self-cleansing most likely speaks to his guilt over his handling of the storm."

In the bath
I picture Bush’s recent paintings of himself washing off whatever filth his mind is aware he carries". Coleen Rowley 

Jerry Saltz of Vulture likes Bush's paintings and writes. “Paint, George, paint. Paint more. Please. If you exhibit it, I’ll write about it.”

“There’s something appealing in the quiet straightforwardness of Bush's work, and in the lack of grandiosity in his choice of subject matter”. Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian.

"I think the key takeaway from these paintings is that every person has many sides to them, we need to remember that ... nobody's one-dimensional." art therapist Rachel Brandoff.

George W. Bush should now be left in peace. He is given precious little credit for any achievements, including the way he managed to overcome his alcoholism after his marriage to Laura Welch in 1977. Bush considers that his biggest achievement was that he kept "the country safe amid a real danger." 

Curiously enough the American public seems to have warmed to Bush since gaining new insights into this complex man after his paintings were wrongfully hacked.
Golf Course


*Waterboarding is a form of torture in which water is poured over cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.