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29 March 2013


The news broke a month ago when the hacker Guccifier published emails, messages and private photographs of the Bush family, amongst which appeared the paintings by George W. Bush. He, the one who was president of the United States, who signs with the number 43 (the place he occupied in the list of presidents) paints!

The newspaper El País recently echoed a statement of Cathy Lebowitz, editor of Art in America, in which she stated that the paintings “ could be shown in a gallery and taken seriously in a number of contexts”. “Taken seriously”. In the very same post in Art in America, Lebowitz stated “they are not particularly illustrational but have an abstract sense of space” and reminded her of Fairfield Porter.

Leaving aside the morbid fascination behind the artistic discovery of Bush and avoiding references to the pictorial endeavours of similar characters, of the like of Adolf Hitler or the Duke of Edinburgh, there are certain considerations to be born in mind.

The paintings by the artist Bush can be analysed in a variety of ways. On the one hand, the naïf American, who likes paintings dogs and bucolic scenes, given that he had already offered proof of his taste by decorating the oval office with American landscapes. Amongst which, were those by Julian Onderdonk and in particular, A Charge to Keep, a piece by W.H.D. Koerner that takes the title from a religious hymn, that in turn takes it’s title from a verse of Leviticus, and was also the title given to a book by Bush (written by a black writer), presented as the typical campaign book where the author presents his life and programme. It is evident that for a born again Christian, ex-alcoholic and son of a petrol magnate, the strength of a religious canticle about overcoming and regeneration has left its mark.

On the other hand we have the freak, the odd bod, who under the appearance of a simpleton, conceals a turbulent psychology and paints himself in the bathtub. In these canvases people have wanted to see references to David, Degas, or Frida Kahlo, or there are even those who point to a settling of accounts with the phantom of hurricane Katrina (in both scenes the water flows in abundance). But the truth is that Bush has no idea who Marat is, nor did the events in New Orleans even slightly ruffle his feathers. He portrays himself nude from behind, looking in a mirror that rather clumsily returns the face, almost absurdly or paints his legs sticking out of the water. But never includes his sex. And we can imagine him passing the time, not knowing what to do, observing his body age in his daily shower, asking someone close at hand to take a photograph of him so that he can later paint himself.

American critics have received this discovery with excitement, amongst them Jerry Saltz, who has asked for the Whitney Museum to purchase the bath paintings, proposing that if Bush carries on painting he will continue to write about him. As, one has to “take it seriously” when a figure of such calibre paints. Coming soon, at Gagosian.

Xavier Acarín is fascinated with experience as the driving force of contemporary culture. He has worked in art centres and cultural organizations both in Barcelona and New York, focussing in particular on performance and installation.

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