George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, has put politics aside for the moment to pursue his new passion of painting. In an exhibit titled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” which opened to the public on Saturday at the George W. Bush Presidential Center library in Dallas, the former president shares portraits he has painted reflecting many of the world leaders he worked with as head of state.
The former president’s artistic talents, which were first shown the light by a hacker who interrupted private Bush family emails revealing images of some of the paintings, have developed from amateurish doodling of feet in a bathtub and doggy portraits, to some slightly less amateurish portraits of those whom he spent time with during his eight years as president.
Bush’s subjects include everyone from Russia’s president, Vladamir Putin, to Tony Blair – former UK Prime Minister and Bush’s closest ally while in office – and even a portrait of dear old dad, George Bush Sr. of which George Jr. is most fond of, describing it as “a gentle soul.”
Though the portraits are already up for public viewing, most of the world leaders that are the former president’s subjects have not seen his work yet. In an interview conducted by his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, a correspondent on NBC’s Today show, Bush said, “I think they’re going to be [like], ‘Wow, George Bush is a painter… I look forward to seeing a stick figure he painted of me.”
While many art critics will not be quick to swoon at Bush’s feet over his newest hobby, some of the paintings are not that bad. Granted, some are unrecognizable and downright scary, but some of the paintings do have a certain reminiscence cubism and of artist’s like Picasso. At least, when Picasso was in his African mask portrait stage.
Jerry Saltz, an art critic for New York Magazine said that after spending more than a decade despising Bush he finally has a reason to like him, calling him a good painter but admitting that Bush displays “no natural gifts – except the desire to do this.”
Bush has been developing this new interest, which reportedly began on a tablet with an art app, ever since reading Winston Churchill’s book Painting as a Pastime.
Bush concedes that, “I’m not a great artist…I paint a lot. I want to get better.” He hopes that the new hobby will help “make sure the last chapters of [his] life are full.”
George Bush is not alone in his venture into the arts after presidency. Leaders before him, including Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter all picked up the brush after their term was done. Carter became quite a profitable artist, selling one of his original works for $250,000, of which proceeds went to human rights charities. Not to be outdone, however, is Vladamir Putin, who himself is a painter, had one of his works bring over $1 million at an auction in St Petersburg several years ago.
One thing is for sure, as the former president has joked, “the signature on my paintings is worth more than the paintings.” But if painting is what makes George Bush happy, then by all means “W” will paint.
Commentary by Cody Long