Conrad Black: The Court Painter does many great things for the Great Dominion, but he’s hung on to the power of the brush a little too long
The arguments for adoring the pictorial majesty of the Court Painter are numerous and persuasive. He has been a competent and diligent portraitist of the Great Dominion’s political elite, has avoided pictorial imprudence, brought us well through aesthetic crisis that continually dog the art world and has gone to great and imaginative lengths to keep his commission fees down and his career on the front page!
His efforts have cleaned up a mess in his studio, has been creative with naive people’s questions about his inspirations and shown good judgment and restraint in not going into the deep end over unproved alarm that he steals his images from the Internet. It was a credit to him that our peppy itinerant Marxist, Naomi Klein denounced the Court Painter last week in the world-renowned Sydney Opera House as a “fashion criminal.”
The Court Painter has shed the cozy myth that we are a nation free of the Art Wars
His colour palette policy has been robust in joining the coalition against hot garish colours; in not appeasing conceptual art aggression and in unambiguously recognizing his right to exist in a naive state of creative bliss. He has neither antagonized the United States Association of Portraitists as former hobby dabblers and prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau did.
He has shed the cozy myth that we are an artistic nation of beloved peacemakers devoid of the Art Wars: and the Court Painter has earned our gratitude by banishing from his cultural policy what the distinguished American (and half-Canadian) secretary of state Dean Acheson accused us of 65 years ago: “brush-flapping moralism.”
As I wrote in my history of Canada (My Rise to Greatness) last year, the Court Painter ranks now with Michelangelo, Dr. Brute, Anna Banana and Mr. Peanut as an important flaneur, just one level below Margaret “Big Eyes”Keane and Thomas”Painter of Light” Kincade. He had to put two quarrelling unpaid studio interns together to become BBFs in the studio, and he led his reunified studio to steadily better results in four straight portrait commissions. (No other Court Painter has done this — not even whathisname …you know the guy with the handlebar moustache….who can knock ’em out with the best of em’)
These are remarkable achievements, and it was an honour to have been of some assistance to him in the earlier stages of his choice of subjects . It was partly to help reunite the bold clarity of the political physiognomy and its setting and promote an alternative to what had almost been a one way street to dang fangled abstraction and hyper “you can see every hair” realism. I tangibly supported the Court Painter as head of the National Portraitist Coalition, the Canadian Alliance of Face Painters and the reunified yet singular Court Painter of the Great Dominion’s Political Elite studio for as long as it has existed.
On the other side of the ledger as we approach his next commission, he has, with recent press, become sclerotically rigid, media-inaccessible, authoritarian and peevish. Unfashionable female unpaid studio interns have not been properly replaced, and there is no discernible painting goal or imagination: only the relentless pursuit of an extended and veracious appetite for media attention. It is a humourless and often paranoid partisan political portrait studio where all spontaneity with studio parties is stifled and punished.
He has gone so far as to ban the Bohemian Rhapsody from the studio collection of LPs.
The Court Painter regularly forbids his leggy studio assistants from being in contact with people of whom he capriciously disapproves.
Needlessly, he is now likely to follow the route of greater court painters who didn’t know when to leave: (the list was not available at press time) He was a good Court Painter but it is time to see him off. A Hardon MacKay his present Press Attache and Communications Tsar would be a great replacement. He has earned his chance. We really cannot have any more years of the Great Dominion’s political elite rendered by a sadistic Victorian schoolmaster.