Why even make art in the face of cultural turmoil, political corruption, and nascent authoritarianism? When there are so many other urgent needs, do we really need a painting? What can art even do? Should it provide a respite, an escape? Can it effect actual change, like, right now, when we need it? Is it inspiration? Or a distraction?
Learning from Guernica
Perhaps the most renowned work of politically instrumentalized art of the modern era offers some insights. In 1937 the beleaguered Spanish Republic sought to generate international attention, support, and funding to defeat the fascists in the country's civil war. They would do this by showing major new artworks in the country's pavilion at the Paris Exposition.
For several months Spain's most famous artist Pablo Picasso worked on his contribution; a large painting of his Paris studio. On April 26, Nazi planes firebombed the Basque town of Guernica. Days later a million people took to the streets of Paris in protest after newspapers published George Steers' firsthand account of the unprecedented civilian casualties and destruction. Picasso changed his subject.
Picasso's painting went on view in Paris for six months, to mixed critical response. Then it was sent on a fundraising tour of Europe. After the Republic fell, and the Nazis invaded the rest of Europe, Guernica toured the US in 1940 to raise money for Spanish refugees. Guernica itself took refuge at The Museum of Modern Art, at the artist's urging, until the military dictatorship's rule in Spain ended.
By every contemporaneous metric, Guernica failed. It did not sway European support or save the Republic, stop the Nazis, or thwart the widespread adoption of aerial bombing of civilians.
After the war, Picasso's painting became a high-profile exile from fascism; at MoMA it became a site of anti-war protest. Guernica was returned to a democratic Spain in 1981, and the United Nations hung a full-scale tapestry replica, commissioned and loaned by Nelson Rockefeller. It was a potent enough reminder of unjust war that when he came to argue for invading Iraq, US Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted it be hidden from view.
And this, perhaps, is painting's job right now: to bear personal witness, to symbolize, to remind, and, when necessary, to shame.
"Ivanka, Go Ahead, Say Something"
Sometimes an eyewitness account of a crucial moment compels an artistic response. Such is the case with dpa photographer Michael Kappe's image of Ivanka Trump addressing German chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on March 17, 2017.
Trump's participation at the meeting preceded by several days the announcement that, despite her father's previous assertions to the contrary, she would take a job in his administration. It was a moment before it was reported that, in fact, an office in the West Wing had been set aside for her all along. A moment before the White House announced Ivanka would visit Merkel in Germany. A moment, in other words, that in the days spent contemplating the [f]utility of this Kickstarter campaign, has already been overtaken by the corrupting nepotism it portended. And so it must be marked for history's sake, and for ours.
Our Guernica, After Our Picasso
This is the charge: to create a painting that responds to the moment captured by Kappe's camera. But who should paint it? Not me, no way. This scene requires the vision of the most famous painter of the day: George W. Bush.
Since leaving the White House in 2009, Bush has sought to transform himself into a serious, accomplished painter. He recently debuted a collection of portraits of soldiers wounded in his war, painted in his distinctive, unnervingly intimate, and expressionistic style.
This Kickstarter campaign is to enlist George Bush's painterly skills to bear witness of the crucial historic moments of the Trump administration, starting with this ominously prescient flash between Ivanka and Merkel. But there's no way I'll get Bush to do it himself; I wouldn't even if I could. Instead, I will collaborate with a skilled artist in China who will channel Bush to create a unique response painted in W's maturing style.
As a backer, you will not only serve as a patron helping to realize this decisive public art gesture. You will stand as a witness, helping to propagate the resulting image throughout the world, in the form of limited edition prints. Together we will greatly improve the likelihood that this work of art will survive, to testify to the future that these things did not pass by entirely unnoticed.
If this first painting is successful, others will follow. When, of what, of whom, it's hard to say right now because srsly, even a couple of weeks ago, who could have imagined this one? I'd like to think the painting series will be extremely short, but we'll just have to see. I'm sadly confident that such telling moments will sear themselves into our retinas and demand, like Kappe's image, an artistic witness.
The formats and editions of the prints follow that other master painter of the age, Thomas Kinkade, whose Editions Pyramid gave transparency and mathematical certainty to an otherwise mysterious and opaque art world.
Like Mt Fuji, there are several paths to the top of the Pyramid, and to achieving enough support to cover the costs of producing and distributing the original painting and its various editions. Whatever folly it might be, this is not a grift; any excess funds will be used to create the additional works in this terrible, historically important series. Thank you, and God help us all.
Risks and challenges
I have printed editions of all the formats involved here, and I have worked with professional artists in China to create dozens of successful paintings in various styles. But there is always the risk that this painting just doesn't come out.
Could Bush's style actually have some ineffable emotional content that a highly trained artist who *didn't* start a multi-trillion-dollar failed war that killed hundreds of thousands of people just can't capture? We can't rule it out. But I'm not going to be satisfied leaving history a piece of junk, so we'll take the efforts, make the iterations, and pay the attention necessary to get it right.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (24 days)