The world’s most distinctive gallery of international leaders will be seen tonight at an opening in Dallas. These famous faces were painted by another famous face, the 43rd president of the United States and George W. Bush. He’s graduated from dogs and cats and self-portraits in the shower and tub and has painted more than two dozen portraits of foreign figures he encountered while in office and put them on display at his presidential library, which is, to me, odd on SO many levels. “I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy and I befriended leaders,” Mr. Bush said in a video produced by the History Channel that will greet visitors to the library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. “I learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.” Alongside many of the portraits in the exhibit, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” are photographs of the subjects with Mr. Bush as well as some artifacts of their interactions. Bush picked up painting two years ago after the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis suggested he read Winston Churchill’s essay, “Painting as a Pastime.” After Mr. Bush experimented for a while with an iPad sketch application (I’d like to see those) Laura Bush’s friend, Pamela Nelson, a Dallas artist, recommended an instructor and he began lessons with a noted Dallas painter. He started by painting his pets, producing scores of works. He crafted a portrait of Jay Leno that he presented to him on “The Tonight Show.”
By last fall, at the suggestion of an S.M.U. art instructor, Mr. Bush began concentrating on world leaders. Now on some days, he spends three or four hours at his easel. The man who never much cared for museums – he famously rushed through the legendary Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in 30 minutes flat – told a private gathering the other day that he now can linger in art exhibits for hours at a time studying brush strokes and color palettes. Many have wondered whether Mr. Bush is working through some unresolved issues through his art, but friends say it is a way of channeling a restless spirit now that he has left politics behind. “Fundamentally, he’s a guy with a lot of energy,” said Mark McKinnon, his former political consultant. “And he needs a pursuit to help burn it off. And it may seem counterintuitive, but it’s also how he relaxes.” To be sure, this is not a new Rembrandt, and Mr. Bush freely acknowledged in the video that “the signature is worth more than the painting.” He told the recent private gathering that it was either confident or foolish to put his work on display.
No disrespect but more foolish, I’d say – although everyone LOVES this idea of an ex-president “artist”. But, you know there are COUNTLESS painting of the same quality as the ones you see here. As an artist, I FULLY understand where this is coming from. My work is based on vintage paint by number pantings – kits created in the 50s and 60s for JUST such a weekend painter. The trick is that painting were created by professional artists. So I get the impulse to paint whether you are good or not. Outsider artists have exhibit this style for as long as there have been canvas and paint. The cliché is “paint what you know” and Bush didn’t deviate from this dictum an iota. I think it might have been more interesting had he painted more interesting subjects, but world leaders fit in nicely, if you happen to have your own presidential library. They do have a naive charm and I was tempted to combine this with The Museum of Bad Art, but I’ll save that for another post. I kinda wish he had embraced the bad art idea and painted Pamela Anderson in her Baywatch drag (hey, he did Jay Leno) he is an ex-President, and not our brightest, so that’s a bit much to ask. So, no criticism, and I think W knows this, NO ONE would be interested in these if YOUR uncle George had painted them – except maybe your Aunt Sarah.