Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guess who?


Painting of man's legs in a bathtub. Description follows in caption.
Who could this be taking a bath? [A painting of a man sitting in a full bath tub with the faucet running, painted from his point of view and showing only his thighs, knees and toes above the water. A green stripe surrounds the tub, which is built into a corner, with a black "back-splash" forming a thick black line across the top right and a dynamic trapezoid on the left, due to perspective. The very top quarter consists of a beige wall with a white thing (towel?) on it and curtains, possibly bamboo, on the left wall, where soft natural light appears to be filtering in.]

Painting of man in shower. Description follows in caption.
Same guy, better angle. But who?! you may ask. [Image: amateur painting of a white grey-haired man in the shower. His body, shown only from behind and from the waist up, is somewhat beefy and completely naked, appearing to lean from the hips into the picture frame. His face is reflected in a small round mirror clipped to the shower head, which shoots small jets of water straight down the center of the image. Glass doors are visible just at the left edge; the rest of the picture is the wall of the shower, covered in large pink-beige stone tiles; the grout runs parallel and perpendicular to the edges of the painting. There are no really dark darks, even in shadow.]

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:

Marge's portrait of Mr. Burns. Description in caption.
[Image: portrait of Mr. Burns naked, skinny and hunched over in front of a purple background in a spotlight]
The audience is shocked and appalled until Marge explains that she wanted to convey the humanity, the fragility of Burns. One museum-goer sums up, "He's evil-- but he'll die. I like it." People warm to it, acknowledging that Burns is straight-up evil, but the humanity and fragility helps them see the good in him.

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:

Painting of a dog. Description follows in caption.
Barney, by George W. Bush. [Image: head and shoulders of a grey-black Scottish Terrier, I think, on a white background, signed "43." The dog turns to look at the viewer, and the brushstrokes describe the direction of the fur. It's not bad; technically, probably the best of W's paintings]
Poor Barney. Even though I have absolutely no recollection of this dog I miss him just a little now.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hilarious post. The tub painting of W. is not bad--maybe a sophisticated amateur, or a sophisticate intentionally looking amateurish. But the almost full-figure one is just plain bad, even before his identity is revealed (eeuw).