George Bush’s paintings: this is the art of Forrest Gump
George W Bush has found that magic recipe for public redemption that eludes Tony Blair. Don’t waste time on globetrotting missions and elder-statesman opinions that do nothing to appease people who see you as a liar and warmonger and think you should be arrested. Take up painting instead.
That gentle, civilised art can wipe away a surprising quantity of blood.
Since it became known that Bush had taken up painting as a hobby and had hired a personal artistic trainer to improve his style, his opinion poll ratings in America have improved, slightly. The comedy of a naive self-portrait of himself in the bath that got leaked on Twitter apparently helped humanise the man most responsible for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Americans do tend to be forgiving of their more controversial presidents. This generosity is surely born of national self-regard. If you see the presidency as peopled by monsters how can you love your country? So like Nixon before him, Dubya is getting reassessed, or at least repackaged, his martial presidency forgotten in America’s cosy reception of his cute paintings, unveiled in a television interview with his own daughter.
It’s like being nice about the family idiot’s latest art project. Aw, isn’t that sweet, poor George has done paintings of world leaders. He’s putting them in his little museum. The soppiness is unmitigated: early online reactions blathered moist-eyed about him capturing Vladimir Putin’s “soul”.
His portrait of Putin actually looks like something you would find in one of America’s trash-rich Salvation Army stores and buy to laugh at. It’s got a classic amateur clumsiness and oddity to it. Bush has attempted to render shadow and shape in stylish blocks of fawn and woodchip and cookies ‘n cream, but they don’t sit right and the whole head looks mildly crazed. Perhaps this mad look is what is meant by revealing Putin’s “soul”, but it seems inept rather than insightful.
It looks as if Bush’s art coach has showed him paintings by no less a model that the great pop portraitist Alex Katz, whose semi-abstract, wide-eyed style and flat backgrounds his hamfisted daubs vainly echo. But the results lack coherence or vitality. This is the art of Forrest Gump.
Idiocy in art has its charms. In the man who ran the free world into bloodstained buffers, those charms quickly sour. These empty headed daubs look the work of someone you wouldn’t trust to mow a lawn without cutting someone’s foot off.
Winston Churchill also took up art as a hobby and even won respect as a serious painter – the art historian EH Gombrich compared him with Constable. But there was every reason to be kind to Churchill the painter. He had earned his pleasures.