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1 October 2016 15:44 (South Africa)
Life, etc

Art world shudders as Dubya comes clean

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • Life, etc
bush main.jpg

The question asked by thinking people everywhere: what is former US President George W Bush up to? Mostly, the answer is getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at speaking engagements for roomfuls of fat bankers and Goldman Sachs traders. Another correct answer would be “shooting things”. A third? Try painting. RICHARD POPLAK takes a dive into the deep end of the art world.

Nothing wrong with an artistic streak. It shows sensitivity, nuance, and a way of seeing the world that includes a great understanding of the sanctity of all things living under God’s great heaven. Things could be changing in the art world, though. Some artists currently garnering a lot of attention have been accused of great atrocities. And no, I’m not talking about Damien Hirst.

I’m talking about George W Bush.

When I first heard of W taking to an easel, I assumed that he was digging through deer viscera and smearing the blood onto a canvas, while Satan looked on encouragingly, saying, “Yes, my son. Yes, indeed. Loverly.”

But no. It appears that a hacker named Guccifer rudely hacked into W’s sister’s email. Irony alert: the president who didn’t care much for his subjects’ privacy or civil liberties was exposed as an artsy-fartsy type, emailing his family his pictures, like a kid proudly showing off his finger painting oeuvre during summer camp. No other Bush family secrets—like the fact that they were deposited here by an alien race in order to destroy earth and use humans for batteries—were exposed. Just Bush’s paintings.

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Which makes one think—is Guccifer merely the Colin Powell of W’s attempt to take over the art world? Is this (another) elaborate hoax to insinuate a Bush into the highest levels of a famously rotten and corrupt system? Or is it an attempt to bring democracy to the art world? Is W going after the Saddam Hussein of art traders, Larry Gagosian? Is this a pre-emptive strike, a shock and awe with oil and paint?

No one can say. But what is certain is that the W paintings are quite shit. That’s not to say that they don’t have their own special charm. To say nothing of nudity.

Yes, Bush’s output is like a Game of Thrones episode, without the beheadings. As one would expect of W, the paintings are mostly about him. And mostly about him washing. The first depicts a pair of old man legs in a bathtub, knees and toes protruding. This made me think about how difficult it must be to paint in the bathtub. Did the Pentagon invent waterproof paint so he could pull this off? Is he trying to put a postmodern spin on watercolours? Did he just lie, and paint the damn thing when he got out of the bath and dried off?

Again, who can say? Great art contains its own mysteries, and this painting is full of them. I will say this –the perspective is mildly accurate.

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The second painting shows a dude who is obviously Bush standing naked in the shower. We only see his upper torso, which is ripped and muscular, like he’s been bitch slapping Sylvester Stallone since he (Bush, not Stallone) split the White House. We see his dopey eyes staring back at us from a shaving mirror, and those eyes seem to by saying… well, what exactly?

Others have noted that the bathing theme may represent a deep subconscious need for Bush to cleanse himself of his many sins, which include, among other things, mangling the English language badly, and killing hundreds of thousands of people. It’s the killing hundreds of thousands of people part that gets people musing that Bush may have sin on his mind, but I’m not sure he remembers any of the boring stuff that happened between 2000 and 2008.

Speaking of boring – the third painting. This is a boilerplate landscape that looks like it was painted by a housewife between making macaroni and cheese and cleaning the toilet. It’s a painting of a church, which probably reflects the fact that W thinks he’s God.

Anyway, these aren’t the best paintings I’ve ever seen. But they aren’t Hitler bad (don’t forget, the Aushole from Austria was a painter before he graduated to genocidal maniac). Nor, as I said, are they Damien Hirsts.

But one does wonder what is next from Bush’s sturdy easel? Can we expect a nudey pic of Laura? Perhaps Dick Cheney spread out on a divan, posing like an emperor? Will Rummy come over and pose in Iron Man’s armour? The possibilities abound. It will certainly be interesting to see where Bush goes in his second career. It can’t possibly be a bigger failure than the first. DM

Photo by Reuters.

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • Life, etc

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