The anti-artist 

Bad portraits of Dick Cheney are hard to come by

Grant is searching eBay for bad portraits of Dick Cheney so he can paint "Jesus Loves Dick" across the tops and sell them at his next Sister Louisa art show. His one-and-only "Jesus Loves Dick" painting was among the first to sell at his last show, and he's had tons of requests since, but alas, bad portraits of our vice president turn out to be hard to come by. He'd lucked across the first one at a yard sale, and thought the ease with which it was found would avail itself on a regular basis. But he was wrong.

"Christ Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary Poppins," he blusters. "If only I'd known that my last crappy portrait of Dick Cheney would be my actual last, I never would have sold it for just $66."

In his search he's come across a number of decent portraits of Dick Cheney, which are rare in themselves, and a lot of large framed photographs – which, let's face it, are a complete curiosity – but none of them is bad enough for him to work with.

"It has to be crappy, crappy, crappy!" he complains. "Is that asking too much?"

But Grant's kind of crappy is asking a lot, if you ask me. First, he cannot just paint them himself. No. Never. Sister Louisa works with found objects, so she must find these portraits in their finished state, and they can't have been painted well by someone with talent. They have to have been painted poorly by someone who thinks he or she has talent. There is a difference, and it's very distinct and very important. It is, in essence, the signature of Grant's art; when it comes to the portraits that are Sister Louisa-worthy, that are to be the basis upon which Sister Louisa augments her sayings and wisdoms, they not only have to be bad jobs, but they have to bad jobs done by people who think they're making masterpieces.

When Grant started out, he wasn't that picky about the crappiness of the pieces that would become the basis for his art. He stuck to paint-by-numbers of religious scenes that he'd found in thrift-store rummage bins, such as the one where Jesus is riding a donkey along a cobblestone path as worshipers grovel nearby. Sister Louisa augmented that with colorfully painted words coming from the donkey's mouth: "Who is the Jesus and why is he on my back?"

But then came the bad portraits. They spoke to him – or better, they spoke to Sister Louisa. He only picked the ones that looked as if they'd been painted as a majestic gesture by another member of the subject's family, perhaps by an aunt or mother-in-law who – puffed with the certainty of their own talent – envisioned the piece hanging prominently in the subject's home for generations to come. It would be badly done, yes, but badly done with love.

One of my favorites is of a '50s-era matron, her brown hairdo clinging to her temples like small balls of moss. With the pearls, the yellow-ribboned dress, the kinda heart-shaped lips, the depthless eyes, the portrait almost passes muster as a real art piece, but truthfully the fact that it comes so close to being a job well done just adds to its awfulness. Across the top, Sister Louisa has written in big, bold, yellow letters, "God Loves a Crack Whore."

But the Dick Cheney thing didn't start until recently, and it didn't even start with a Dick Cheney portrait. It started, I swear, with a paint-by-numbers picture of a kitten. That's right. Grant happened upon a horrible painting of a huge kitten that had probably been buried under garbage and pissed on by actual cats before he plucked it from the floor of the Salvation Army. After he brought it home to his studio and gave it a hazmat hose-down, Sister Louisa captioned it with "Jesus Loves Pussy" in big blue-and-red letters, and immediately it became one of his website's best sellers. That's what gave him the idea when he saw the Dick Cheney portrait at the yard sale.

"Well if Jesus loves pussy he's gotta love Dick, too," he said, and plucked it up. It sold the second he hung it on the wall at his last art show, and he laments he didn't have a stock of replacements for the show he now has hanging at Stone Soup in Grant Park.

The problem, he laments, is that bad Dick Cheney pictures are a lot harder to come by than bad kitten ones, and I agree with him, because I have been on the lookout for Grant myself, which is how I personally found my own thrift-store kitten picture and demanded that Grant get Sister Louisa to do it up for me. It's too bad the bad Dick pictures aren't so abundant.

"Maybe you can do Dick Van Dyke instead," I offered him.

"Bitch, don't tell me to compromise my art," he said, thwacking my head with his meaty hand.

"You stupid puckered poo hole!" I hollered. "You made me promise that if you ever started acting like a real artist I'm supposed to remind you that you are the anti-artist!"

"I gotta go," he said, rising to leave. Before leaving, he turned to me and – puffed with the certainty of his own talent – he said, "I gotta go find Jesus some Dick."

Hollis Gillespie is founder of the Shocking Real Life Writing Academy. www.hollisgillespie.com.

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