Ladies and gentlemen, former President George W. Bush. The poor guy's email got hacked and these paintings he did are no longer private.
So, how do you feel?
I admit that my immediate thought upon unexpectedly glimpsing W in the shower, in the nude, was neither considerate nor edifying:
[video: an episode of The Simpsons where Marge is hired to paint Montgomery Burns's portrait. He moves into their house so she can get to know his "inner beauty," which is when she walks in on him in the shower.]
If you don't remember how this episode of The Simpsons turns out, the desperate Marge is unable to find any inner beauty in the inimitably evil Burns. Eventually the museum gala rolls around and the portrait is revealed:
|[Image: portrait of Mr. Burns naked, skinny and hunched over in front of a purple background in a spotlight]|
I continued to draw this unflattering comparison as I read each response to Bush's paintings (all from left-leaning people). Basically, everyone found him completely irredeemable until he displayed his humanity and vulnerability in these somewhat pathetic (though not terrible) paintings.
Jerry Saltz showed off his turdlier side by writing about these as serious Whitney-ready art, dropping the bomb, "even from someone who obviously has zero natural talent" amidst his facetiously "glowing" review. Really, Jerry Saltz? You lose your license to be the Everyman's Critic when you behave like that.
Yet even as I was typing the description of the shower painting I found myself lapsing into serious criticism, catching myself just before I described W's naked torso as a pictorial simplification that melds the cartoonish plastic GI Joe figure with primitive paintings of Christ on the cross. GI Jesus: an apt description of his public persona while in office.
I also think it's interesting that each painting is so light and soft-- really, they're downright feminine. The famously transgressive pinks of de Kooning's paintings of nude women come to mind when I see the pink tile and pink body of one; the other reminds me of an ad for a spa. They're also very meditative; he and I may be similarly afflicted by doing our best thinking in the bathroom. One imagines W had little time for splashing around in the tub or leisurely showers during his 8 years in the White House; I think the world sighs its collective relief that he does now.
Much has been made of the content. People have suggested the tub is evocative of water-boarding, with the running faucet signifying guilt. Others, that he is attempting to cleanse himself from his deeds as President. Saltz writes, "These are pictures of someone dissembling without knowing it, unprotected and on display, but split between the promptings of his own inner drives and limited by his abilities. They reflect the pleasures of disinterestedness. A floater. Inert." It's worth noting, of course, that lots of amateurs and high school students paint bathroom scenes because the bathroom is just an interesting place, visually and psychologically. It could also be that he did these as assignments for a class or instructional book. Basically, I think this: that his stuff is amateur but not beginner, promising but not there yet, nice composition, interesting subject matter (though very probably by accident).
I've gotta admit, he took some risks and it sucks that his paintings got released to the public. But hey, at least it happened to a man and not, say, Hillary Clinton or, God help her, Michelle Obama.
Bush also made public (on purpose) this painting in memory of FDOTUS Barney: