George W. Bush’s Paintings: An Earnest Critique

By Ebeth Palamara

While I don’t doubt the existence of this blog’s rightfully self-satisfied humanoid host, sometimes I question the sincerity of Chet’s admiration of the literary elite. Which is why it seems problematic for what I’m about to say to appear on a platform that is (mostly) satirical. So, to be clear, I want to assert that the following statement is written in earnest: I think George W. Bush is a born artist.

Take, for example, the portrait of himself with his father. God, the insight. W. stands in the foreground, H.W. staggered behind, both in ¾ profile, facing a bright light. The latter regards the dazzling sight outside the frame with placid curiosity, his chin tucked up toward the lipless line of his mouth; his eyes are bright, his pupils open and hungry. We see here that Bush Senior has allowed himself to take delight in the act of discovery, to relish in the present moment.

W, however, depicts himself as being far less contented. He dons his characteristic quizzical expression, the corner of his mouth pressed into his cheek, his eyes fearful at the sight before him. Shadows sweep the sides of the Bushes’ faces and down their backs, with W’s darkness in particular dominating the foreground. It even creeps around his semi-lit hairline, toward the middle of his forehead.

I assure you: this is no artistic blunder. By illustrating this unrealistic movement of light, W presents his viewer with the true subject of this portrait: the darkness that follows him, seeping into his ability to reclaim his status as a civilian. It’s clear from this penetrating representation that he has yet to jettison the post-presidency shame he feels, perhaps over fracking the shit out of our country’s dwindling wilderness, or declaring war on an abstraction which thereupon resulted in tangible losses, all while misplacing an entire country’s economy the way one might lose a button on a favorite cardigan. Not to mention: the painting is untitled! How refreshingly unpretentious.

And don’t even get me started on his self-portrait in the shower. The mirror reflecting his face is so far from his body that it insists we view it as a purposeful choice. His reflection peers out at us with a helpless, lost look in its eyes. Here, W’s unique spatial point of view and expressive use of details allow us access to his rich inner life, one plagued by a fragmented sense of self.

At the onset of his post-term painting lessons, W famously said to his teacher, “There is a Rembrandt trapped in this body.” Who could disagree? By finally responding to his artistic calling, he has bestowed upon us a rare treat: a peek into the psyche of a US president. George W. Bush’s masquerade as an amateur artist proves far more fruitful than his masquerade as a politician. Color me impressed!

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