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Rockin’ the Art World: George Bush’s Portrait Exhibition Opens in Dallas

Portraits of (clockwise from bottom left) former  President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and the former president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. All were painted by former President George W. Bush. Credit - Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

Portraits of (clockwise from bottom left) former  President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and the former president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. All were painted by former President George W. Bush. Credit – Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

Don’t let Peter Baker‘s pretentious, dreadful first sentence in this NYT article dissuade you (enjoy it, I know I did, ever so frostily) it’s a good subject. Former President Bush is a fine amateur painter!

Peter Baker writes:  A dour Vladimir Putin glares ever so frostily, full of menace, free of mirth, ready to annex any passer-by unwise enough to get too close.

Tony Blair stares ahead, sober and resolute. Hamid Karzai, in traditional green cap and cape, glances off to the side, almost as if checking over his shoulder for the Taliban — or perhaps for the United States. The Dalai Lama looks serene, Stephen Harper jovial, Jiang Zemin grim.

“…Putin has certainly put himself on display for the world. I don’t think there’s much more we can say about Putin that Putin hasn’t already revealed to the world in living color.”

— Stephen J. Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser

The world’s most distinctive gallery of international leaders opens in Dallas on Saturday, famous faces as seen through the eyes of the former president of the United States and noted amateur painter, George W. Bush. Graduating from dogs and cats and landscapes, Mr. Bush has produced a collection of more than two dozen portraits of foreign figures he encountered while in office and put them on display at his presidential library.

“I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy and I befriended leaders. I learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.”

— Artist and former President G.W.Bush

The official debut of the artist known as W. peels back the curtain on the hobby that has consumed him, and intrigued many others, over the last couple of years. Although some of his early works, including vaguely unsettling self portraits in the bath and shower, were posted on the Internet after his family’s email accounts were hacked, this is the first time the former president has staged an exhibit of his art. And his choices are as revealing about the artist as the subjects.

A self-portrait by Mr. Bush, left, and a portrait of his father, the former President George Bush. Credit Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center..

A self-portrait by Mr. Bush, left, and a portrait of his father, the former President George Bush. Credit – Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center..

“I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy and I befriended leaders,” Mr. Bush said in a seven-minute 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.”

For Mr. Bush, foreign affairs during his eight years in office revolved powerfully around these relationships. “I watched one of the best at personal diplomacy in my dad,” he said. “He was amazing about befriending people where there may not be common interests, and I emulated that.”

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. The former president is quoted describing his experiences and giving his impressions of the subject, and the subject is quoted describing Mr. Bush.

“What’s interesting about them is less that they’re representational pictures of these people, because a photograph would do just fine,” said Stephen J. Hadley, who was Mr. Bush’s national security adviser and who planned to interview his former boss about his paintings for a group of library patrons on Friday night. “But in the way he’s painted them, it tells you about his relationships with them.”

Mr. 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, Laura Bush’s friend, Pamela Nelson, a Dallas artist, recommended an instructor and he began lessons with Gail Norfleet, 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… read more….

NYTimes.com

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