MEMORIALS: On the Veteran Portraits of George W. Bush

George W. Bush “Sergeant Daniel Casara

.

Last March, one morning on the way to work I was fortunate to hear on the radio an interview conducted by Hugh Hewitt. Although he’s often profundly off base on his analysis of events, Hewitt has interesting guests. On this program he was speaking with former President George W. Bush, about a subject I find endlessly fascinating: painting.

George W. Bush’s book of paintings “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to American Warriors” is a major best seller. It’s currently number one in many of the Art categories on Amazon, a reflection of people’s desire to support our veterans. However, it also reflects a positive response to a surprising development for our retired 43rd President –  his unsuspected creative talents.

Mr. Bush is characteristically humble about his work. He plainly states in the forward of his book he is an amateur: “I’m not sure how the art in this book will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I’m a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with care and respect.”

I always say in real painting there is nowhere for the artist to hide; those reverent emotions towards the veterans the former President depicted are present in his paintings.

It’s an interesting story how Bush came to his art. “I had been an art-agnostic all my life,” he admits. However, as he was leaving office, he became intrigued by the dedication to painting shown by Winston Churchill. Inspired by Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Bush started working with a series of instructors to learn the craft. To his first teacher he stated: “‘Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body…Your job is to liberate him.'” He was 66 years old.

The world was surprised in 2013 when hacker Guccifer revealed emails connected to the Bushes had been compromised. Unlike recent leaked Democrat emails, these messages were not full of dirty tricks, backstabbing, and fawning communications from reporters. However, the hacked accounts did expose George Bush paintings, including two sly self portraits in the shower and bath.

bush paintings

Out of the painting closet now, Bush started sharing his new passion openly. He disclosed he had painted pets and landscapes. At the advice of one of his teachers, Bush embarked on a series on world leaders he knew, including his own father:

George W. Bush “The Dalai Lama”

.

George W. Bush “Hamid Karzai

.

George W. Bush “George H.W. Bush”

.

The real focus of Bush’s post-presidency has been supporting wounded veterans.  Through the Bush Center Military Service Initiative, post 9-11 veterans and their families gain assistance transitioning back to civilian life. It was natural Bush’s two great interests came together. “Portraits in Courage” shows paintings of some of the veterans Bush has come to know. Proceeds from the books sales are going to support the Bush Center’s programs.

George W. Bush “Sergeant Major Christopher Self”

.

In addition to painting the veterans’ portraits from photographs, Bush tells their stories as well. He describes why they joined the military, how they served, how they were wounded in the line of duty. He then shares the triumphs and challenges each faced during recovery, and how he met them during his presidency and Bush Center events. These stories are not sugar coated; they acknowledge the true difficulties involved. But the overarching theme is inspirational, as the veterans speak of their determination and pride to be part of the United States Military.

There is much discussion about the gap between the experiences of the armed services and civilians. “But that civilian-military divide, I think Portraits of Courage may help bridge that by giving people glimpses into their lives, not just the painting,” Bush says; “… the stories are more important than the paintings.”

A notable example of these differences are attitudes about George W. Bush himself. While the civilian population,  agitated  by a relentlessly hostile media, turned very negative towards Bush during his presidency, he was always well regarded by the troops who served under him. As recently as 2014, 65%  of post 9-11 veterans stated Bush was a good commander in chief.

George W. Bush “Staff Sergeant Jack Schumacher,Sergeant William J. Ganem”  

.

Time has been good to the reputation of Bush, perhaps because the current White House occupant is the subject of persistent histrionic Establishment meltdowns. Now partisan media types think it’s okay to make some positive comments about Bush, while still pouring on the typical gallons of bile and venom. Even cultural critic hacks have been cautiously laudatory. “The quality of the art is astonishingly high,” the New Yorker mentions in their column of recycled insults. “An evocative and surprisingly adept artist who has dramatically improved his technique,” The New York Times grudgingly admits during their litany of blame. Fake news CNN headlined their 2014 article that Bush’s paintings show “his softer side.”

Filtering out the ideology, I agree with the critics. As a painter, I recognize the work that went into his paintings, the ongoing series of judgments needed to reimagine the dimensions of life onto a flat canvas. Bush seems to have developed the instinct for applying paint so that it communicates. The works are full of personality, mood, and incorporate real moments of finesse. Other more awkward passages just enhance their expressive power. As noted by the co-founders of both the Stuckism and Remodernism art movements, amateurs willing to take chances, to reveal their own shortcomings, are the ones who push us forward:

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Stuckist Manifesto

In that previously mentioned Hewitt interview, it was exciting to hear former President Bush speak in terms I could relate to as an intuitive artist. It’s worth reviewing some of the words he used that showed me here was a fellow artist, working to coordinate his hand, eye, mind and heart, to share his vision of life and his connections to humanity.

George W. Bush Quotes About Painting

“The thing about painting is you never finish a painting. I mean, there’s always something, at least in my case, there’s always something I could do to improve, and so at some point in time, you had to have the discipline to say I’m moving onto another portrait.”

“A really good artist came to my studio with my instructor, and he said you know, I think you can paint. You ought to try to paint the world leaders with whom you served. And it was such an uplifting statement, because what he was saying was seek new heights. Try something different.”

“First of all, the painting has got a lot of paint on it. And, which I think conveys a sense of confidence in painting. The first ones I painted, the world leaders, it was real tight brush strokes. You know, I was trying to get it exact. And these are much looser. I think it’s a tribute to my instructors, and a tribute to time at easel.”

“…I don’t think the quest to develop a style that you can express yourself as fully as you want ever ends.”

“…painting is ahead of me for sure. It’s one of the great learning experiences, Hugh. It’s, you know, I think about it all the time. When I get back this weekend, I’ll paint. And I’m looking for a new project.”

George W. Bush in the studio

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other entries for more commentary on the state of the arts.

Advertisements

PAINTINGS: Climb, Climb

Richard Bledsoe “Climb, Climb” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

.

Another 2017 painting. This one was begun long ago; the vision that produced this one was triggered by the lyrics of a Meat Puppets song, “Climbing.”

Climb, climb, I always climb
Out of bed in the morning on a mountain made of sand
And I know this doesn’t rhyme
But the clutter on the table has been getting out of hand

The image is not a literal illustration of the lyrics, but I appreciated the sentiment.

Back when I started the drawing came quick. However, piece then joined the works in progress stack of paintings stuck in the corner of the studio, where it lingered.

One of my mantras is there is nothing more inspirational than a deadline. When I was asked to be the featured artist for the exhibit “The Journey” at Desert Springs Community Church’s Call To Art, I knew this painting had to be part of it. Thinking about my own journeys in life got me very excited about finishing this piece.

I often describe painting as a series of interlocking contrasts: light and dark, abrupt passages and gradual passages, color against color. Another element I like to contrast is the naturalistic and the stylized. Here I put a very exaggerated figure into a rather subtle and realistic appearing landscape. Of course it is a green mountainside, which is not expected, but that was the vision I had. At my best I’m just taking dictation.

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

At Work on “The War You Will Always Have With You”

For me, making a painting is a process of continual adjustments.

Define and revise big areas before focusing on details-the finer the detail, the later in the painting it will occur.

Start working on the background, moving towards the foreground. Go back and make changes to the background, working forward again, over and over. The idea is to keep moving the piece towards an overall level of consistent finish, layer by layer.

Creating a space

At first the lion was floating in a yellow void. That has very little resemblance to the vision in my mind. I needed an environment to enclose the animal. I think about Medieval art, and the fantastic Bestiaries they used to render. The influence appears in the painting.

One of my painting mantras is “It’s just a base coat!” I am open to covering every inch of the existing painting over with new colors and brushwork, obscuring what came before, if needed.

The trick is seeing along the way what passages work, preserving them, enhancing them. It’s an intuitive method. Recognize which mistakes to keep.

I preserve the integrity of the initial composition, unless I find I made a catastrophic drawing mistake. When that happened on some of my pieces in the past, I’ve flipped the canvas upside down and started the stage one drawing all over.

Highlights

I went back in with white and loosely defined some areas, working fast and brushy. Some will indeed wind up being white. In other places, the white is a base coat for glazes: transparent layers of color laid over the white will create quite a glow, one of my ongoing painting fascinations.

This is still the early phases of this image. I anticipate I will be working on it for several more months. Additional progress reports to come.

Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.

-The Stuckists Manifesto

.

Earlier Installment:

A New Painting in Progress Part 1

ART QUOTES: Taurus Artists

Joan Miro “The Bull Fight”

“The picture should be fecund. It must bring a world to birth.”

-Joan Miro

Joan Miro wrestles with sculpture

.

I don’t believe the stars control our fates, or can be used to tell our fortunes. But life has proven to me again and again the time of year a person is born does seem to influence their personalities.

Why would this be the case? I have no idea. But my observations show me the universe is full of patterns, cycles, all evidence of the great underlying order beyond our limited human perceptions. The pseudo-science of astrology is the result of centuries of study on human behavior. Somehow we find echos of our souls projected out into a cosmic scale; around and around we all go, playing our variations of the 12 eternal roles manifested in symbols of animals, mythical beasts, and human archetypes.

We are now in the time of Taurus (April 21 – May 21). They are symbolized by the bull, a summation of their temperament: a powerful beast, earthy, persistent, often placid, but capable of being provoked into an element rage.

Taurus  Traits

  • Determined
  • Practical
  • Patient
  • Down to earth
  • Stubborn
  • Self Indulgent

Can you see the Taurus personality reflected in the work and words of these artists?

.

Bridget Riley “Movement in Squares”

“It seems the deeper, truer personality of the artist only emerges in the making of decisions… in refusing and accepting, changing and revising.”

-Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley at work, 1963

.

.

Salvador Dali “The Old Age of William Tell”

“Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams.”

-Salvador Dali

.

.

Keith Haring “Untitled”

“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw… Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.”

-Keith Haring

Keith Haring, at one with his work

.

.

Willem de Kooning “Woman with Bicycle”

“I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art.”

-Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning takes a smoke break