MEMORIALS: On the Veteran Portraits of George W. Bush

George W. Bush “Sergeant Daniel Casara

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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”

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George W. Bush “Hamid Karzai

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George W. Bush “George H.W. Bush”

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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”

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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”  

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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.

PAINTINGS: Climb, Climb

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

ARTICLE: The Death of University Art Programs, Part 3: Ignorance as a Method of Critique

Professor Walter Gaudnek: He recommended an anatomically correct, if not politically correct, addition

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“You should just paint a vagina on it, it would be much better,” Walter Gaudnek, the professor, is accused of telling an undergraduate last semester. “You can’t paint the Virgin Mary like this, she would be fucking pissed,” he added, according to a letter of instruction placed in his personnel file and provided to Inside Higher Ed via an open-records request. News of the letter was originally reported by The Orlando Sentinel.

-LINK to the ARTICLE: Critique vs. Harassment by Colleen Flaherty

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So I don’t know how this guy beat the normal witch hunt that gets whipped up every time someone offends a special snowflake student with a questionable comment. Professor Gaudneck is getting off light, with a slap on the wrist it seems. Perhaps it has something to do with the bigotry of low expectations for university arts programs. In the article another art professor comments as far as standards go, “art is ‘a low-coherency field in which experts routinely disagree about even foundational principles…’”

With colleagues like that, who needs enemies? Low coherency indeed.

Perhaps there is some anti-Christian bias working in his favor here. Without seeing the student work in question, it’s hard to know the context of his criticism. If the thrust of the painting was a sincere religious effort, then of course the Academy would support deriding it. Who cares if the backwards Jesus people get offended? They are an approved target in the crypto-Marxist hellholes our colleges have become.

Gaudeck seems a pretty unremarkable establishment Post Modern artist, appropriating images from Classical artworks and redoing them as crude coloring book illustrations. He also seems to have an affinity for painting Hitler.

Walter Gaudnek: Again with the Hitler

Reading about this strange little controversy reminded me of my college art school experiences, and also filled me with dread. Back in the 1990s I experienced the decaying practices of upper level art education. I can only imagine what the bullying identity politics and virtue signalling of Progressives have turned university art programs into for today’s wishy washy Millennials. From what I have encountered, sophistry has completely devoured the credentialed art world, and inside that bubble, specious double talk stands in for artistic accomplishment.

I saw the evidence this was coming during my student days. In retrospect I can see the pattern. The older professors, trained under the more rigorous standards of an earlier era, tended to talk less, hanging back while we students engaged with our work, and only stepping in with technical pointers and observations as needed. It was some of the younger teachers, the adjuncts and the graduate students, who just wouldn’t shut up.

Instead of focusing on studio experience, the favored practice of this newer generation of instructors was to assign projects as homework, to be brought into the classroom for the grim slog of the never ending critique.

So many of my classes ended up falling into this dynamic. Imagine a group of more-or-less introverted teens and twentysomethings. These are visually oriented as opposed to verbally oriented people: aspiring artists. Because of their youth and lack of training, they are profoundly ignorant of solid intellectual concepts and analytical processes. This is not an insult, merely an acknowledgement of their level of maturity and education. They’ve come to a university to try to improve these deficiencies.

But ultimately it’s a bunch of inexperienced students, who are very engaged and passionate about making things-which happens to be very different than talking fluently about making things. And yet the expectation and the emphasis being placed by the teachers was on words, words, and more words.

These types of classes were very repetitive. Projects were usually not too structured, we were just expected have work to present in class. We’d bring in our pieces, pin them to the wall or set them up on easels, and sit in a ragged semi-circle to contemplate them. Then the speechifying would begin.

The critique model was very different than the group critiques I had taken part in during my beginning art classes. Back then the emphasis had been clear cut discussions of craftsmanship in regards to specific assignments. But now, what little guidance we received from the instructors of the upper level classes aimed our dialogs into the more rarefied atmosphere of Concepts.

Now this might have been productive if we had actually been led in discussions that allowed us to gain understanding of the meanings, methods, and purposes of art. However, the instructors were not much assistance in making this critique method practical. They were usually right there with us novices as far as the quality of their commentary went. Their blather was only distinguished by a larger vocabulary of buzzwords, a greater working knowledge of art history, and an air of dubious authority.

We knew we were supposed to be engaged in a discussion of the successes or failings of the work presented. But what it came down to was a bunch of mostly inarticulate kids trying desperately to sound smart and insightful about art, a subject which is historically infamous for being difficult to put into words. We sure didn’t know how to go about this, so we’d just throw out whatever and hoped it would connect.

It was usually an awkward and halting free for all. The mood was brittle. We’d take turns; everyone got their moment under the microscope. The discussion would go around the room. We were given the chance to make a brief statement about our own work, and then the rest of the class would comment.

We’d try a little of everything in response to the works we were looking at: offer irrelevant suggestions, go off on tangents, tell meandering anecdotes, make inappropriate confessions, hurl accusations, violate the rules of logic and decency in trying to make some obscure point, complain, change the subject, grand stand. At last the teacher would swoop in with some kind of cynical and pontificating final judgment, and we’d move on to the next victim.

This went on week after week, class after class.

Virginia Commonwealth University prided itself on being a school for so-called advanced art. Abstract, non-objective, and conceptual pieces were in. It became obvious it mostly didn’t matter what caliber of art work you showed up with; as long as you adopted the highfalutin jargon of the academic world to discuss it, it was taken seriously.

Just how to make all this this ill-informed opinionating into something usable was beyond me.

In the blind alleys we were directed into, the criteria being used to evaluate the works seemed on the surface completely arbitrary. But in fact, the more feeble the efforts were, the more opportunities it gave to launch into peripheral diatribes regarding half-baked sociology, aggravated psychology, convoluted technobabble and the like. This was the kind of talk that got these teachers really excited, subtly reinforcing that this was where our attention ought to be focused.

Rewarding certain behaviors encourages more of those types of behaviors. And so most students were dutifully herded into producing slapdash experimental works, and talking about activism, therapy and pedantic minutia, rather than trying to understand if an artwork functioned effectively on its own terms, as art. It was easier to adopt the lofty lecturing tone of the instructors, to curry favor by asserting the approved beliefs and attitudes.

Encouraging attitudes of grievance and victimization, or highlighting incidental matters of process or technique, does not lead to powerful art. But it does lead to the generation of thought police, dependent personality disorder types, and detached technocrats-all useful cogs for the Leftist machine. The indoctrination continues.

I participated in the tedious discussions, but I was always felt we were missing the point. We were not taught about how genuine art is made, or why. We were trained to substitute opaque discourse and tribal signaling for skillful achievement.

These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.

 

We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.

-The Remodernism Manifesto

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 1: ERIC FISCHL

Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 2: THE CORCORAN COLLAPSE

 

EXHIBITIONS: The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington, London England

Richard Bledsoe “The Portrait of Emmeline Grangerford” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

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The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington

April 18 – 28, 2017

The Cass Art Space

66-67 Colebrook Row

London N1 8AB

Mon-Sat 10am-7pm (Wed 6pm)

In April, I am honored to be included in an exhibit with an international group of artists. In “The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington,” I will be showing alongside artists from the UK, USA, Spain, France, Australia, China, Russia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

There are a lot familiar names participating in this exhibit. Many of the same artists were featured right here in Phoenix, Arizona’s 2014 exhibition International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors. In this blog I’ve previously featured Ron Throop and Alexey Stepanov in their collaborative project, Round Trip Stuckism. And I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Charles Thomson, the co-founder of both Stuckism and Remodernism.

The ideas Thomson documented in his writings have inspired artists from all around the world, as this show demonstrates. Along with co-founder Billy Childish, they created manifestos which describe an open source art movement entirely different from the corrupt, elitist art market status quo.

Their passionate articulation of art practices based on authenticity, revelation, and connectivity changed my life when I stumbled across them so long ago, during some random late night internet surfing. They communicated in bold, frank language observations I had also made, mostly to myself, about the failures and potentials of the contemporary art scene. I never was able to present my thoughts in such a concise fashion before though. I learned much from their example. Stuckism/Remodernism has been inspirational to me not only as a painter, but as a writer and an arts activist as well.

Billy Childish moved on to follow his own idiosyncratic path, but Charles Thomson has stayed to do the hard work with the movement. He has lent his organization skills, encouragement, and enthusiasm in creating opportunities throughout a worldwide community, currently listed as 236 groups in 52 countries. He has made the grassroots go global.

Some day I hope to be able to make a personal appearance at one of Stuckism’s international shows, wherever it may be.

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The Stuckist gives up the laborious task of playing games of novelty, shock and gimmick. The Stuckist neither looks backwards nor forwards but is engaged with the study of the human condition. The Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humour over wittiness and painting over smugness.

-The Stuckist Manifesto

 

 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A Beginning in Yellow

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 I am currently at work on my latest large scale piece-large for me being in this case 36″ x 36″.

I had originally built this stretcher with a different image in mind for it. But life intervened before I got started. New thoughts developed and took on more urgency. The current subject came to me in a vision, as my imagery often does. I changed my mind about what I was going to commit the next several months to working on.

 Right now I don’t have to fulfill any commission. I don’t have create a piece for any particular theme show or call for entries. Being so free to choose out of the many painting ideas I have could be challenging. However, as an intuitive artist, I am provided guidance. I know the right idea to proceed with because it’s the one I keep thinking about. I can’t get out of my mind. I’m going to need to paint it out.

I don’t like the white void of a fresh canvas. It lacks an entry point. I almost always begin a painting by laying down a field of color. In this case, it was several coats of Lemon Yellow acrylic paint, all over.

Then I was ready to draw in the major form of the piece.

A rough sketch to begin, right onto the canvas

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I would never use a projector to translate imagery onto a canvas. It’s an unsavory practice, an unacceptable shortcut. Real art will never arise from a shortcut mentality.

Be a brave artist. Use your own hand, heart, mind and eye. Don’t rely on a machine to make your discoveries for you.

I also don’t work from separately created preparatory drawings, even though I know that’s the classical technique. I dive in and paint it out directly on the canvas. It’s a flexible, forgiving medium. Most of my painting time is spent fixing mistakes and shoring up weak spots. Since I’m working from imagination, this involves lots of staring, and comparing what is happening in the painting to what I can see in my mind.

Recognizing which mistakes to keep is what makes a painting come alive.

Like many of my works, this vision came presented complete with a title. My new painting is called “The War You Will Always Have With You.”

I do enjoy puns.

I feel this work is very much in sync with the spirit of this age, and now was time for it to be made. If I serve as an effective conduit, by the time the piece is finished, its relevance should be apparent to everyone, without me even having to use words to say it. The painting will speak for itself.

I will continue to provide periodic updates as the painting progresses.