Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nude Self-Portraits

Last Thursday a relative sent me a link to two nude self-portraits by George W. Bush (see above) and asked for my "professional opinion." What could I say? Is it fair to assess a painting based on its reproduction? Does a former United States president who condoned murder in the name of market certainty deserve to have his paintings taken seriously as works of artistic ambiguity?

Painting aside, I am intrigued by Bush's self-portraits. Yes, the wall to the left of the bathtub defies perspective, just as the face in the mirror does not line up with its subject. But these "errors" only contribute to the compositions' ambiguity. As for the setting, the bathroom is to the self what the kitchen is to others: a private space closer to ones thoughts than any other room in the house, a place where you can dwell naked without anyone asking why.

John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (1975) has more to do with Parmigianino (c. 1524) than what one pops zits with. Indeed, the closest Ashbery gets to the bathroom is "to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea." If people feel comfortable with their bodies in the bathroom (be it singing in the shower or painting from the tub), then let's return to it and see where it leads.

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