An anti-Bush painting in a California group show is causing a firestorm of protest, but for all the wrong reasons. The California Arts Council along with California Lawyers for the Arts and State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, have sparked controversy with a show they’ve sponsored at California’s Department of Justice in the state capital of Sacramento. The exhibit, A Creative Merger: Lawyers and Artists, is an exhibit presenting over 30 original works of art created by lawyers or others in the legal field. The artworks are hung in the Side Bar Café, the restaurant at the capital’s State Department building - and while the exhibit was not funded with state money there are apparently some who don’t like what they’ve seen.
A few of the works in the exhibit take pot shots at the policies of the Bush administration, like a painting of the hooded Iraqi prisoner tormented by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, or another painting of Bush sitting in a church bell tower mounted on a tank that’s making tracks across occupied Iraq. However, it’s T’anks to Mr. Bush, the artwork by Berkeley lawyer and rank amateur painter, Stephen Pearcy, that’s causing the uproar. Pearcy’s crude painting shows the American Flag in the shape of the United States being flushed down a toilet. A pair of real cowboy boots planted at the foot of the painting, combined with the work’s title, make it perfectly clear that Pearcy faults Mr. Bush with ruining the good ‘ol USA. Right-wingers are howling mad and several rightist blogs have been collecting signatures on a petition demanding the painting’s removal from the exhibit. Conservative Sacramento talk radio host, Eric Hogue, has made opposition to Pearcy’s painting the focus of his blog, while the State Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty exclaimed that the artwork is “blatantly offensive to people who think that America does not belong in the toilet”.
There are many Americans who think George W. Bush is the worst president this country has ever had, and I count myself amongst that crowd, however - to me that is not the issue at hand. Unfortunately this affair is being turned into a battle over free speech and an artist’s right to exhibit controversial works. I regard those as sacrosanct rights, but there’s also something else I think of as sacred… that ephemeral and beauteous thing we call “art”. To be honest, if I had been the curator of the Creative Merger show, Pearcy’s painting would have been on my list of rejects to be excluded from the exhibit. If he wanted to mount it on a stick and carry it around during a protest, fine, I can accept it as a coarsely drawn, vulgar, and ill-conceived protest sign. But then, I’ve seen better drawn placards at demonstrations that were created by people wise enough not to proclaim themselves artists.
I find it amusing that some people would expect me to stand up for Pearcy’s artless scrawl just because it’s a jibe against Bush. I have no intention of defending Stephen Pearcy’s painting - I’d much rather take to task those whose standards are so low that they’d include such rubbish in an art exhibit. To the liberals and conservatives who will endlessly squabble over this matter while dragging art through the mud, I say - a pox on both your houses. As for Stephen Pearcy, I’m afraid that even if I gave him private and intensive lessons in the art of painting, it would be for naught. I can only hope that he’s a better lawyer than he is an artist.