From one iffy painter to another, my unsolicited advice to former President George W. Bush is to persist in pursuit of painting. Not that your art will get better; it is just that people will get more tolerant or indifferent or resigned to it.
Bush does not need me to tell him that the reason why his art gets so much attention has almost nothing to do with his art and everything to do with who he is and has been. Looking at the former president’s portraits of world leaders, including India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it is obvious to me that those roadside artists in Manhattan do a much greater job of portraiture sitting on the grimy sidewalks. They do not have the luxury of being displayed in a library that bears their own name. They just sell their works for 15 bucks apiece without serious art critics ever saying anything about them.
I have seen many of President Bush’s portraits. They are very graduate level quality of an aspiring painter passing out of a suburban art school by railway tracks. That is not necessarily a criticism but merely a summation of what I feel. It has been my enduring view of President Bush that he likes to play different people—once it was president and now, having played that successfully, it is painter. The sense one gets is that he is keen to play parts. I have seen photos of him looking like a painter with an apron. Not a lot of serious painters bother with an apron because the aim is not to shield oneself against the paints but to get immersed in them.
I am happy that post-presidency he has found a hobby that seems to make him happy. In terms of the quality of his portraits, they may or may not be fairly accurate representations of the people he has drawn. Are they at least evocative? I am not so sure. Manmohan Singh, for instance, looks like a sanguine version of himself. There is a clear likeness but there is no personality. That may have to do with Dr. Singh and not Bush’s talents as a painter.
President Bush has been a great admirer of Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was a fairly accomplished painter. Churchill’s works are more assured than Bush’s. In fact,the renowned painter Sir Oswald Birley was once quoted as saying, "If Churchill had given the time to art that he has given to politics, he would have been by all odds the world’s greatest painter." One would hesitate to say that about President Bush but one must applaud the effort. Churchill’s advice to aspiring painter was to be audacious. In painting anything at all Bush has certainly followed that advice rather well.
Speaking of audacity, mine has been chronicled in my posts frequently. The other day I shot myself completing a piece. Here is that piece with a link to the video on YouTube. I have for long considered the sight of several people reading newspapers, as they do in India, a rather charming one. It is a reassuring sight because people bother to read and stay informed. This particular work of mine was done on a Whole Foods brown bag opened up.