Art Critic: Bush a Better Artist Than Thomas Kinkade

Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 02:17 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Late "painter of light" Thomas Kinkade was a better technical painter than former President George W. Bush, says art critic Mat Gleason, but Bush's portraits of world leaders shows he's a "far superior artist."

Gleason traveled to the Bush Presidential Library last week to view the former two-term leader's artwork, he writes in a column for the Huffington Post, and said he found Bush's paintings to be "inventive" and that Bush is on a "quest to develop a visual vocabulary that captures an emotional recollection of the world leaders with whom he bonded."

The portraits aren't laid out like they would be in a typical gallery, but instead are placed among placards that tell of the visits Bush had with each person and the gifts the visitors gave him and first lady Laura Bush.

There is no indication of the chronological order in which the work is painted, which would have indicated Bush's progress as a painter, but Gleason said there are interesting works of art among the displays.

"His Dalai Lama portrait is slap-dash terrible," Gleason said, "While the painting of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is so inventive that it is just too advanced for a novice."

The masterpiece of the display is a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wears a "palpably evil stare."

Knowing when the Putin painting was done would have helped show if Bush knew Putin "was headed toward his recent diabolical expansion."

The entire exhibition, and the way it did not adhere to traditional art-show displays, "suddenly reminded me of visits to Thomas Kinkade stores back at the turn of the millennium."

Like many art critics, Gleason did not have kind words for Kinkade's many works, which "revealed the charming aspirations of middle America turned maudlin by the dramatic addition of a lone spotlight splayed across a simpleton scenic canvas ... nothing summed up the soulless center of suburban American culture more — it was of its time."

But there are a lot of similarities between Bush and Kinkade, even away from their canvases, Gleason said.

"Both were sentimentalists deemed cloying by their opposition," he said. "Each was either oblivious to criticism or disinterested, as their styles were strictly about engaging the public without pretense or any accommodations that modernity had ever occurred."

But when you stack the conservative leader's artwork against that of the most popular American painter since Norman Rockwell, Kinkade never deviated from the predictable, but "Bush is far more complex."

"He has developed a consistent visual vocabulary that has more hallmarks of originality than decades worth of Kinkades," Gleason said.

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