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Response to Rex (Reply #26)

Sat Dec 29, 2012, 03:47 PM

28. George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens

George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens
c. 1979-90, 5th Version


Toward a Diagram of Mark Lombardi

by Frances Richard

Who is James R. Bath?

A nodal point in Mark Lombardi's drawing George W. Bush, Harken Energy and Jackson Stephens c. 1979-90, 5th Version, 1999, James R. Bath appears in the upper lefthand corner of the 16 1/2" x 41" piece of paper. The spatial syntax of Lombardi's drawings—which map in elegantly visual terms the secret deals and suspect associations of financiers, politicians, corporations, and governments—dictates that the more densely lines ray out from a given node, the more deeply that figure is embroiled in the tale Lombardi tells. Thirteen lines originate with or point to James R. Bath, more than any other name presented. Among those linked to this obscure yet central character are George W. Bush, Jr., George H.W. Bush, Sr., Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, Governor John B. Connally of Texas, Sheik Salim bin Laden of Saudi Arabia, and Sheik Salim's younger brother, Osama bin Laden.

The drawing is done on pale beige paper, in pencil. It follows a time-line, with dates arrayed across three horizontal tiers. These in turn support arcs denoting personal and corporate alliances, the whole comprising a skeletal resume of George W. Bush's career in the oil business. In other words, the drawing, like all Lombardi's work, is a post-Conceptual reinvention of history painting, a document of factually verifiable yet extremely pared-down relationships limned in a double light of international fame and cryptic realpolitik. Or rather, the light is triple. For, though he possessed the instincts of a private eye and the acumen of a systems-analyst, Lombardi was of course an artist, and from the raw material of wire-service reports and books by political correspondents, he drew not only chronicles of covert, high-stakes trade, but technically pristine and sensually compelling visual forms. His project's sources are profoundly art-historical, even as they are obviously journalistic, and the creative tension between abstracted, self-propelling image and direct verbal communication propels his work. Delicately balanced and gracefully enlaced, these lines and circles read from across the room as purely retinal explorations of two-dimensional space. Their stylized complexity, however, lures the eye in, to a point where language registers as legible and referentiality asserts itself through the scrim of form. A narrative emerges. Looking shifts toward reading, and Lombardi's one-two punch lands.

James R. Bath, it turns out, is a Texas businessman, a sometime aeronautics broker whose firm, Skyway Aircraft Leasing, LTD., was a Cayman Islands front amassing money for use by Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair. Bath also served as an agent minding American interests for a quartet of Saudi Arabian billionaires, one of whom was Sheik Salim bin Laden, the oldest son and heir of Sheik Mohammed bin Laden, father of fifty-four children including Osama. According to reports by the Houston Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, Time, and others, Bath did business in his own name but with the Saudis' money; tax records indicate that he collected a fee of 5% on their multimillion dollar American investments. In 1979, Bath contributed $50,000 to Arbusto Energy, a limited-partnership controlled by George W. Bush. As Bath had little capital of his own, oil insiders trace the funds to his silent partners, specifically Salim bin Laden. Such cash infusions from Bath's client sheiks and George H.W. Bush's cartel cronies could not, however, prop Arbusto up. The venture collapsed in 1981 and merged into the Spectrum 7 Energy Corporation. Spectrum—still with W. at the helm—evolved through more near-failures and mergers into Harken Energy, which, in 1990, embarked upon a sweetheart deal to drill oil wells in Bahrain—this regardless of the fact that Harken had never drilled an overseas well, nor a marine well of any kind. Oil industry cognoscenti again assume that the Bahrain contract was orchestrated as a favor from the Saudis to the American chief executive and his family. The favor paid. On June 20, 1990, George W. Bush sold two-thirds of his Harken stock at $4 per share. Eight days later, Harken finished the second quarter with losses of $23 million; the stock promptly lost 75% of its value, finishing at just over $1 per share. Two months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Gulf War began. All these events are cited in Lombardi's drawing.

Meanwhile, another Bath associate, Sheik Khalid bin Mafouz, was involved in the collapse (in July, 1991) of the Bank of Credit and Commerce, International, better known as BCCI. Among the sins of the Pakistani-owned BCCI were money-laundering on behalf of Colombian druglords, arms brokering, bribery, and aid to terrorists; when this cabal came unglued, millions of investors in seventy-three countries lost their life-savings. Although Bath was not personally implicated in the BCCI fiasco, an estranged business partner claims that that he, Bath, had been recruited to the CIA in 1976-77 by George Bush, Sr., after serving in the Texas Air National Guard as the buddy of George Bush, Jr. (in 1972, the two young men narrowly escaped arrest for cocaine possession). Bath's putative CIA connections, the Agency's operations in the Middle East, and the adventures of BCCI thus compose a kind of symmetry. The byzantine saga of BCCI's demise is plotted in the drawing that is perhaps Lombardi's masterwork, BCCI-ICIC-FAB, c. 1972-1991, (4th Version), 1996-2000. Unveiled in the landmark P.S. 1 exhibition "Greater New York" in 2000, this piece signaled Lombardi's arrival at the cusp of art world fame; it is now in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum. A wall-size panel schematizing twenty years of suspect alliances amongst scores of players, BCCI-ICIC-FAB… was the last major work the artist made before his death.

For those who followed the BCCI scandal—or the Harken Energy/insider trading scandal, or the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro scandal, or the Lincoln Savings & Loan scandal, or any of Lombardi's pet juggernauts—these diagrams summarize rather than amend available knowledge. He was always careful to explain that he did not conduct primary investigations, but culled his information exclusively from the public record; a basic Internet search yields multiple references to the Bath/Bush/bin Laden connection. However, ferreting out and adding up in one's own head the myriad fragments scattered across the infotainment megascape is a very different experience from standing before Lombardi's rhythmic plots. In the strangely contemplative and yet galvanizing presence of these images, the graphic equilibrium with which he invests his subjects is transformative. To track these events in the context of the drawings is to experience their import freshly, to undergo a shock of mixed recognition and surprise.



Infinite thanks to you, Rex. I am honored to return your salute, Sir. I am privileged to stand with you.

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