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Anti-Bush drawing called 'hate speech'

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- An award-winning drawing blaming President Bush for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was pulled from a small-town exhibit over "insurance issues" after a businessman withdrew his $300 prize and called the piece a form of "hate speech."

Artist Chuck Bowden's drawing, "The Tactics of Tyrants Are Always Transparent," won second place in the Redwood Art Association's annual fall exhibit, held earlier this month in Eureka, Calif. In the 11-inch-by-14-inch drawing, a crown and halo-topped Bush stands on a grave, his hand dripping with blood as bodies fall to the ground from the World Trade Center towers in the distance.

Bowden called it a tribute to those who lost their lives in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and he acknowledged the piece was meant to place blame for the attacks squarely on the shoulders of the president.

But the work upset at least one sponsor. After Bowden's piece was deemed the second place winner by the lone judge, it was quietly bubble-wrapped and stuffed into a closet while 193 other works were prepared for the exhibit's public opening.

"They shouldn't call it `open to art,'" Bowden said of the contest's original call for entries. "They should call it, `open to Republican art' or `open to closed-minded art.'"

An anonymous donor gave $300 in cash to replace the rescinded gift certificate award and Bowden politely accepted. But for the 45-year-old artist, it wasn't simply about the money, it was about the freedom to artistically express unpopular views.

"For local business owners to try to stagnate artistic expression according to their political interpretation of how life should be is not such a good idea," a Bowden told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Paul Bareis is the frame shop owner who withdrew his $300 gift certificate. He defended his right to not have his business endorse Bowden's prize-winning entry, which he deemed "hate speech."

"You've got to stand up and fight for what you believe in and I think that's what our president's doing and that's what I'm doing," Bareis said. "That conspiracy stuff is bunk."

Artist Robert Hudson was the sole judge for the Eureka exhibit. He did not return calls seeking comment.

David Ploss, president of the Redwood Art Association, insists that Bowden's work was not censored. He said the decision to pull the piece from the display was a matter of dollars and cents.

"It did not get displayed because of insurance issues. It had nothing to do with the content of the work," Ploss said. Bowden priced his work at $35,000, far exceeding the average cost of the other 193 works on display, which were covered by a total insurance policy of $142,485, according to the Humboldt Arts Council.

Ploss said the association asked Bowden for an appraisal of his art's worth, or receipts from prior sales of similarly priced art. Bowden produced neither and Ploss said the financial risk of showing the work became too great.

Bowden plans to show the drawing early next year at another local venue.

The winning piece in the contest was a watercolor by Robert Frederick Berryman, titled "Spirit Fishing Fading Light."
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