George W. Bush: Decider, Bather, Painter


Paintings by former president George W. Bush have been published by an anonymous hacker who gained access to Bush family members’ e-mails, as reported by Gawker.

Two self-portraits reveal the self-anointed “decider” in the bathroom. One shows him from behind at half-length, standing in the shower, his face reflected in a shaving mirror.

Another, painted from his own point of view while seated in the bathtub, shows his lower legs and feet. In both, the water is running, either from the showerhead or tap.

Bathers have a rich iconographic tradition, with works by Bonnard, Cassatt and Degas among the most familiar examples. Both Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat (1793) and Frida Kahlo’s What I Saw in the Water or What the Water Gave Me (1938) are evoked by the bathtub painting.

An October 2012 profile of Jeb Bush in New York magazine revealed George W. Bush’s new hobby: “While the rest of the world judges his years in office, he’s taken up painting, making portraits of dogs and arid Texas landscapes. ‘I find it stunning that he has the patience to sit and take instruction and paint,’ says a former aide.”

It might be hard for cynical viewers to avoid waterboarding jokes and references to Narcissus. But A.i.A. senior editor Cathy Lebowitz finds the canvases worthy as artworks.

“These could be shown in a gallery and taken seriously in a number of contexts,” she said, citing stylistic comparisons like Sylvia Sleigh and Lois Dodd.

“What is so striking is that they are not particularly illustrational but have an abstract sense of space and form that reminds me of Fairfield Porter and his milieu,” she said.