Whatever your political leanings may be, you have to sympathize with the Bush family today as a sentient being existing in the Internet age after a hacker leaked a ream of their correspondence to The Smoking Gun. You probably share too much personal information over e-mail (can I get an amen, Davey P.?) and God knows that G-chat holds enough secrets to end half the relationships in the United States (that’s a conservative estimate).
But if there is one good thing this act of hack hath wrought, it is a look inside the mind of former president George W. Bush through his art. Apparently #43 (as he signs some of his paintings) sent pictures of a couple of his works-in-progress to his sister via email, which is actually kind of sweet.
Bush was never one for subtlety, and this is apparent in his work. Fittingly and in keeping with the kind of intense self-obsession that makes men run for president, both paintings that come from the hack are self-portraits. But we’re not talking the kind of WASP in wingback portraiture you might be thinking of; the president is nude—in a tastefully PG sense—in each. Both are set in the midst of the former president performing his toilette in a bathroom with the shadowy lighting and yellowed wallpaper of a Cartagena hotel.
One picture, done from a single point perspective, shows a pair of splayed legs soaking in a running bath—it’s a vulnerable depiction to be sure, and makes you wonder if the tepid waters of the tub are where W. goes to contemplate life in stillness. The other, more haunting work, depicts the president standing in a shower, staring to the right, into dull beige tile—yet the viewer sees his face reflected in a mirror on the left, a reflection not physically possible (though I was never an ace at planar geometry, so perhaps I’m missing a trick of Euclid). Some might look at the crude painting and say that the former president simply doesn’t understand perspective, that the trick of the mirror is no trick at all, but rather the result of clumsy figure placement. This may be so, but I’d like to give the guy a little more credit than that. The vanity of an older man who has maintained a lanky frame is there—he paints his naked torso, finely shadowing those 66 year old back muscles with pride, still taut from years of brush-clearing and bill signing. And yet, he can’t seem to look at himself in the mirror. Nor can he escape himself it seems—the mirror’s reflection is relentless, inescapable. Whatever your take, it’s clear that there’s a lot more than just singing going on in that shower.
Even in the quiet inner sanctum of the bathroom, where a man is just a man, George W. Bush cannot escape his past.