Wednesday 22 October 2014

George Bush's paintings are 'copied off Google images and Wikipedia' art critic claims

Rob Williams

Published 09/04/2014 | 20:06

Portraits of world leaders (clockwise from top-left) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, former French President (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy and former South Korean President (2008-2013) Lee Myung-bak, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hang on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. REUTERS/Brandon Wade (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS)
Portraits of world leaders (clockwise from top-left) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, former French President (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy and former South Korean President (2008-2013) Lee Myung-bak, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hang on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit REUTERS/Brandon Wade
A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, is displayed at "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. Former U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday revealed a series of portraits of world leaders he painted in a new pursuit. The exhibit opens Saturday and will feature Bush's paintings of some two dozen world figures he worked with during his 2001-2009 presidency. REUTERS/Brandon Wade (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, is displayed at "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit REUTERS/Brandon Wade
A portrait (C) of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hangs on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. Olmert was Prime Minister from 2006-2009. REUTERS/Brandon Wade (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS)
A portrait (C) of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, hangs on display during "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. Olmert was Prime Minister from 2006-2009. REUTERS/Brandon Wade

As a former President of the USA, George W Bush has significantly greater access to world leaders than most budding artists.

For his remarkable collection of portraits of world leaders, currently on show at the 'Art of Leadership' exhibition at the Bush Presidential Centre in Dallas, Texas, the former leader of the free world appears, however, to have resorted to using a simplistic approach to producing the startling likenesses

Art critics have pointed out that a number of the 30 portraits in the exhibition appear to be based on images thrown up by a cursory search of the person's name in Google Images. In some cases the portrait seems to have been based on the very first image result on the search engine.

Rather remarkably, even the portrait of his own father, someone who he surely could have asked to sit for him, appears to be based on an Associated Press portrait which appears on the first page of Google Image results. 

First to spot the trend, which was reported in the Guardian, was critic Greg Allen, who pointed out that many of the pictures appear to have been sourced from the subject's Wikipedia entry.

The former president's portraits of Tony Blair, John Howard, Angela Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, have an uncanny similarity to the pictures on the individual's Wikipedia entry.

"Is this meaningful in any way? If he had one, it would mean Bush's studio assistant is very, very lazy," Allen notes.

"But in all his discussion of it, Bush's painting practice appears to be a solitary one. He apparently did not tap the enormous archive of photos, taken by the professionals who followed him every day for eight years, which are contained in his giant library."

"Instead, it seems, he Googled the world leaders he made such impactful relationships with himself, and took the first straight-on headshot he saw," he adds.

This basic approach to the paintings, which it is fair to say have not been an unqualified critical success, seems at odds with Bush's statements about their meaning and his motivation to paint them.

On a gallery walk through with Dallas Morning News reporter Tom Benning, Mr Bush explained that he painted his father, George H.W. Bush, in a "loving way," as a "gesture of compassion."

He told the reporter he depicted Blair as a "good pal" with a "determined face", and aimed for a "sympathetic portrait" of Angela Merkel.

The approach rather brings into question some of the more favourable reviews of the paintings.

The Washington Post for instance explains why the portrait of Putin is great: "The painting of Putin doesn't necessarily stand out because of artistic merit (though I'd argue that it is a really good painting aesthetically)."

"What's really fascinating is to watch Bush grapple with the identity of Putin, a man he once claimed to understand well. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy," Bush famously said after first meeting his Russian counterpart in 2001."

(Independent.co.uk)

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