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A Painter of the Reconstructionist School

L. Paul Bremer is best known for his work in Iraq, but he's concentrating on a very different line of work in Vermont.
L. Paul Bremer is best known for his work in Iraq, but he's concentrating on a very different line of work in Vermont. (Courtesy Of L. Paul Bremer)
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By Al Kamen
Friday, March 20, 2009

Planning an early fall trip in New England? If you're anywhere near Grafton, Vt., you might want to stop in at the Hunter Gallery to see some 25 works by landscape artist L. Paul Bremer, a career Foreign Service officer and terrorism consultant best known for his somewhat rocky tenure as President Bush's early Iraq viceroy.

These are not scenes from that adventure, but oil paintings -- he's been taking painting lessons at a studio and gallery in Glen Echo for two years -- done here and in Vermont, where he vacations.

It's something Bremer said he's long been interested in doing. "I studied art history in college," he told us yesterday. He said he has sold a "couple dozen" pieces, and the ones in the Grafton exhibition go for $300 to $500 (proceeds to the Grafton Historical Society).

He calls his work "American realism" ("my teacher tells me I have to get more abstract"), and his method is in the "plein air" tradition of French and Italian artists, he said. That means, for example, he drives or walks around the woods, finds a scene he likes, and then pulls out his easel and goes to work. "It it's really cold" -- it was 15 below zero this winter -- "sometimes I'll sketch on the site" and then head back to the studio, he says.

We're not expert on these things, so we asked Washington Post art critic Paul Richard to evaluate. "His work is in the tradition of 'Our Town,' " Richard said, of the "covered bridge and the stalwart New England fisher folk of pre-modern New England." The paintings are "taken from nature, rural, untroubled, snowy pure," he added, "ostensibly apolitical but deeply patriotic."

Winston Churchill, to name another statesman-turned-artist, was "more French and daubed," Richard said, "where Bremer is much more reliant on the organizing power of the straight roof and the fence rail and the circle of the wagon wheel." It's "idyllic America" in the tradition of perhaps Andrew Wyeth, Grandma Moses, and Currier and Ives. Former powerful officials often turn to painting. "It's a benign and anodyne activity," a way of "removing oneself from more difficult thoughts," Richard said. We're thinking here of former Reagan chief of staff Donald T. Regan or former congressman James Traficant's paintings of horses while in prison.

But is Bremer's stuff any good? "He doesn't have the high finish you'd expect from a professional," Richard said, but "his work is benign, heartfelt and inexpensive -- priced about where it should be."

Bremer told us he'll also do commissioned work -- but not portraits. "I'll stick to landscapes." So maybe a bucolic scene of the Green Zone at sunrise? Baghdad at night illuminated by tracer fire?

For examples, go to http://www.bremerenterprises.com.


The Livingston Group, former almost-House-speaker Bob Livingston's shop, is not commenting on a report last week that Moammar "Pan Am Flight 103" Gaddafi's Libya reportedly has paid them more than $750,000 since September to improve ties by putting together events at the country's embassy, meeting folks on the Hill and schmoozing corporations.

It appears this was part of a getting-reacquainted initiative after Tripoli and Washington renewed diplomatic ties last year -- 20 years after Libyan agents blew up the airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

Justice Department documents indicate the firm has had a contract with the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and an agreement to work pro bono for the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation that involved "strategic advice and counsel" for a visit of Gaddafi's son to the United States last year.

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