Love For Ink

Cartoonist-turned-painter shares his journey


Jim Bush was rejected, over and over again, by the finest people. Boston’s most noted editorial cartoonist, Paul Szep, told him flat out, after Jim had submitted early examples of his political lampooning, “Give it up, kid. You are no cartoonist.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. A Boston child, father of three and longtime Providence Journal cartoonist, Jim paints, draws and is an exhibitor, teacher, lecturer, editorial voice, lampooner and wit in a building he and his very patient wife, Julia Haverland Bush, own at the corner of Child and Main streets in downtown Warren.

Julia runs the Warren Art Spot out of the back of their corner studio. She recruits artist friends to teach children of all ages various arts and crafts after school and during holiday breaks. Jim usually teaches a cartooning class each session.

“She is amazingly tolerant,” says her grateful pen and inker. “I originally looked for a space in Pawtucket. I looked in Warren, because of the similar tax breaks for artists on sales and materials. Water Street was my ambition, but nothing was available. So I researched more. Then, this beautiful, historic corner spot was for sale, so I pounced. I love that corner space.”

His walls and tables are completely covered with his work. It’s a mess, but a “knowing” mess, because he knows which pile is which. “It’s why my wife and I bought the building. She was sick of my stuff in the house. It’s a common occurrence for artists and their spouses,” says Jim.

In Boston, Jim had the pleasure of seeing Paul Szep’s work almost daily, even after he rejected him, as did many others early on. But he knew what he was and what he could do. A natural humorist, his wit and bite spreads through his India ink well, brush and quill. “I think I started to see the po-tential of cartooning when I first saw MAD magazine. The cartoonists in that publication were geniuses, all of them,” he adds. “I think the visage of (MAD cover boy) Alfred E. Newman sold me on the cartooning field.”

The ProJo saw great things that Boston papers could not. For years, he submitted a political cartoon every other day to the ProJo’s editorial board. Rhode Island did not lack for controversial subject matter in its corrupt operations.

“I was paying attention to every political act in the state - an hourly event! Hate radio was constantly on in the background. Bottom line: A successful local cartoonist needs to attack the powers-that-be,” he says. “It is why, after being nationally syndicated with Tribune Media Services, this market was so attractive.

“Buddy Cianci usually drew his own cartoons, as do they all,” he laughs. “They are all fallible. Are you perfect? Not me. I don’t stand up before the voters and claim to be the solution. That’s their mistake.”

The flip side is that Jim has had many letters to the editor eviscerating him. The one cartoon that got him into the most hot water was misinterpreted. In 2009, RI Speaker of the House William Murphy selected his majority leader Gordon Fox to succeed him. Jim said Fox had been “holding the Speaker’s water for a decade or so,” doing his dirty work.

“I portrayed this in a cartoon depicting the Speaker leaning back on his throne while Mr. Fox (now Speaker) was seen tending to Murphy’s shoes. ‘It’s time, Gordon,’ was the quote from the Speaker, meaning he had decided to pass the staff onto Fox. This was intended by the artist to allegorically show the way the torch is passed in Rhode Island, and what one has to do to get it passed. It was wildly misunderstood as being a racist cartoon and it even became a national story,” says Jim. Fox is partially of Cape Verdean descent. “That was the worst I ever felt about one of my drawings.”

Sadly, his editorial work is seen less and less due to financial concerns. He thinks of himself as a painter now. “Charlie Hall is the most famous Rhody cartoonist I am lucky to know. He is very encouraging. He is mostly a painter now, too. It’s where all great cartoonists go to pasture,” laughs Jim.

A member of the Providence Art Club, he holds semi-annual fine art shows. “(There’s) nothing like putting your work in front of the public and asking them to buy it! That’s humbling.”

He also loves the necessary humility that comes with his corner of Warren. “I hear the greatest moments of road rage. Heck, my building has had two windows broken and been driven into twice. This is a good sign. I hope my paintings are a reflection of my hope and happiness with my surroundings. I think I try to make art that doesn’t challenge or confuse the viewer, but that pleases us both. I feel vindicated now that people buy my work.”