Vladimir Putin by George Bush
Whatever your political alignment, we can all probably agree that George Bush’s artistic legacy is less offensive and destructive than his political legacy. Having said that, it’s still awful. Little of the Texan oilman shines through in the oil paintings of the former president, though to his credit they do reveal a softer side. I’ll be honest: in choosing Bush’s most unflattering portrait it could have been any of them. But the award goes to what the artist himself considers his magnum opus: his portrait of Vladimir Putin (or “Pootie Poot” as the former president called him during his time in office).
When the two first met in Slovenia on state business in 2001, President Bush claimed he could see straight through Mr Putin. “I looked the man in the eye”, he reflected, “I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Looking through the windows of the soul didn’t translate to capturing the man’s spirit how. Rather than revealing the Machiavellian side of Putin’s public persona, Bush’s portrait seems to present a man who looks like he’s been awkwardly interrupted partway through blacking up.
Several art critics praised Bush for the exhibition: not necessarily because of his technical skill, but because of the balls needed to expose himself up to the inevitable criticism. “He’s made himself strangely vulnerable,” mused LA-based critic Daniel Rolnik, “but he’s a folk artist. In a weird way he’s the most American folk artist ever because he’s had the highest position in America.” Others followed suit. “I certainly see this as humanising him,” said a critic for the Washington Post, “I think this gives him a chance to be seen in a different light.”
These portraits certainly do represent the former president in a different light. One thing we can say in his favour is that it isn’t monochrome. George Bush was long caricatured for his simplicity and apparent lack of analytical prowess. If these unflattering portraits do nothing else, they at least confirm one thing: Mr Bush doesn’t see everything in black and white.