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When politicians paint over their mistakes

22 March 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

You might imagine politicians would be wary of paint, given how often they’ve had to dodge it. Some, however, do have a liking for the stuff. As Newsnight editor Ian Katz tweeted recently:

While Rakewell demurs from suggesting that Iain Duncan Smith’s political career might be compared to one of Frank Auerbach’s early impasto works, he does note that the outgoing Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is not alone in political circles in his weakness for painting…

George W. Bush

George W. Bush’s eight-year term as President of the USA was beset by criticism, but not of the sort you might read in the review pages of Apollo. A few years after leaving office, though, the former Commander-in-Chief’s passion for painting was outed by a hacker; Bush went on to display a selection of his portraits of world leaders at his presidential library in Texas. The resulting images are most generously described as ‘naive’. If only the same could be said for his presidency.

Edi Rama

Albania’s polymath Prime Minister actually started out as a painter before turning to the dark arts of governance. Since taking office, he has continued to exhibit his work, most recently in Berlin, Munich and Hong Kong last year. However, his extracurricular artistic activities have attracted criticism, not least from the fact that the PM continues to make money from sales. Rakewell sides with his advisor for European Diplomacy and Culture, who defended his master’s parallel career with the words: ‘We should not forget that Rama is an artist and in the deepness of his conscience he wants to remain like this and resolve struggles…in the most artistic way possible.’ Let’s just hope Rama isn’t channeling Hieronymus Bosch for inspiration.

Nick Clegg

The former deputy prime minister is not an aspiring artist per se, but he has displayed an enthusiastic attitude to getting down and dirty with paint. In advance of last year’s General Election, he chose to launch the Liberal Democrat manifesto from a finger painting class at Botley school in Oxfordshire. While Clegg himself has expressed no further artistic ambitions, the evidence suggests that he thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Helen Clark

Former New Zealand PM Helen Clark has an altogether less glorious relationship with art. In 2002, while in office, she signed a number of paintings by a professional artist and passed them off as her own work at charity auctions. It didn’t take long for the country’s media to rumble her, and she was eventually forced to confess and apologise. The affair has since gone down in Kiwi history as ‘Paintergate’. Clark continued in office for another six years – suggesting that Iain Duncan Smith’s simile may well have been spot on.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.