George W. Bush
“People are surprised. Of course, some people are surprised I can even read.”
One eminent bloke with dubious leadership skills and questionable artistic merits is none other than Dubyuh himself; forty-third president of the United States of America, diplomatic dynamo and defender of freedom who nearly choked to death on a salted pretzel–George W. Bush.
Since retreating from the Oval Office into retirement at his Elysian ranch near Waco, Texas, President Bush has not merely been shuffling around the squash court with secret service agents, but has been studiously partaking in painting lessons.
Claiming to siphon inspiration from the font of Winston Churchill’s book Painting as a Pastime, the ex-leader varies in his selection of subject matter. Bush’s pristinely-groomed Scottish terrier, Barney, who passed from this earthly realm in 2013, is portrayed posthumously in broad swoops of gleaming black oil paint on one large canvas. Talk show host Jay Leno was presented with a Bush-wrought copy of his bulbous-chinned image during a network television appearance by the president last November, and pastoral views of the president’s private cattle-driving paradise are not at all uncommon. Most curiously, however, Bush has depicted steamy, introspective bathroom scenes, in which the identity of the nude male figure—seen with hairy, scrawny legs stretching forward in tepid bathwater, or neurotically inspecting a round magnifying mirror while drenched in a cascade of showerhead steam—cannot be ascertained. Rub-a-dub-Dubyuh? Dick Cheney in the tub?
Whether painting himself in the throes of self-hygiene or commemorating loyal First Pets of the Nation, President Bush is sure to meticulously sign each of his canvasses with only ‘43’, a numerical nod to a job once done. More than twenty-four portraits by America’s forty-third president will be featured in an exhibit deemed The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. The show, beginning this fine month of April, can be envisioned as a visual testimony of one man’s journey from invading rocky Iraqi terrain in militaristic fashion to drafting and pigmenting a new, rather more peaceably bohemian, lifestyle.
This man’s heinous despotic exploits deserve no elucidation here, but it is not entirely well known that the youthful Fuehrer was a wretchedly unaccomplished artist, rejected and scarred. As a teen, he was regarded by his secondary school teachers as having a natural knack for sketching and drawing—yet things proceeded exceedingly poorly for schoolboy Adolf. He flunked out; the price many pay for carrying on as sluggish and disobliging pupils[i].
At the doe-eyed age of eighteen, Hitler packed up his theoretical rucksack, inheritance money and all, and attended the two-day entrance exams at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Success was not doubted in the mind of the cocky and self-absorbed young man, but failure was firmly in the mind of the exam proctors—they duly explained that his drawings showed an intrinsic lack of aptitude for painting, most notably a void of appreciation of the human form, but that his buildings, well, they weren’t so dreadful[ii].
“His face was livid, the mouth quite small, the lips almost white. But the eyes glittered. There was something sinister about them. As if all the hate of which he was capable lay in those glowing eyes…Hitler never ceased to feel ashamed of what his dream of being a painter had become,” subsequently penned his friend, August Kubizek, with a terrible Nostradamus-like keenness.
Hitler did not abide gut-ripping rebuffs from the upper echelons of the art world tranquilly. In 1935, he ordered the Nazi Party to find, obtain and stash hastily in underground bunkers as many of his canvasses as possible. Many had wound their framed, mediocre ways to the dining room walls of perfectly average German citizens, and were purchased from families and individuals for sums which rivalled two years’ average salary for typical manufacturing labourers[iii]. How differently history tomes might read had Hitler been a more apt paint handler.
“I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies/ I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes”
So crooned the bo-jangled bard Bob Dylan in the 1997 track “Not Dark Yet”, and it seems since then the wizened string-picking legend is preoccupied with presenting to the world what occurs behind his eyes, in the fine art-focused lobes of that overwhelmingly lyrical brain.
For nearly two decades, Mr. Dylan has been churning out works as a self-declared, rather-prestigious-for-an- amateur visual artist. A series of pastel portraits by his hand recently enjoyed exhibition in the noble halls of London’s National Portrait Gallery. Bob Dylan: Face Value was displayed from August 2013 until the frosty middle of January 2014, and was constituted by a range of twelve inscrutable subjects rendered in rusty and cement slab hues with geometric, sometimes downright potato-like, facial features. The factual existence of these personalities is veritably dubious. With names like Ursula Belle, Red Flanagan, and Skip Sharpe, they offer viewers not bona fide duplications of likenesses in the style of classic portraitists like Sir Joshua Reynolds, but mysterious blurs of eyes and ears, snippets of sagging smiles, and amalgamations of noses and quirky characteristics encountered throughout the swirling span of Dylan’s years travelling dusty roads.
At the well-seasoned age of seventy-two, Dylan even unveiled a series of massive metallic sculptures—mostly gates hewn of found scrap metal which boast imposing industrial girth and glorify the working man’s daily grind to the grave. Who knew the man could weld?
Of his Frankenstein-esque darlings, soldered together with thick chains and spiky gears, car mufflers, axe heads, and bicycle handlebars, Dylan has remarked, “Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.” Over half a century after recording his first static-spitting ballad, it appears The Voice of a Generation wants to allow audiences a glimpse inside his more secretive creative floodgates.
[i] “Hitler Fails Art Exam”, The Rise of Adolf Hitler, The History Place, 1996
[ii] “Hitler Fails Art Exam”, The History Place
[iii] Marc Fisher, “Half a Century Later, the Paintings of Adolf Hitler Are Still a Federal Case: Part II”, International Campaign for Real History, The Washington Post Company, 2002