Last Saturday ex-president George W. Bush opened a public exhibit of his works – more than 20 portraits of world leaders he met while president – at his presidential library in Dallas. A BBC correspondent said: “For a president long criticized for seeing things only in black and white, the exhibition… comes as something of a revelation.”
His exhibit took all unawares, especially analysts, although it is generally known that George W. Bush took to painting after quitting politics. His portraits show the people he met with while in office, some of whom he invited to his ranch.
Over the past several years he has been painting on a daily basis, along with classes with his art teacher each Sunday. He says Sir Winston Churchill (he also painted and was a brilliant man of letters) is his source of inspiration.
Critics say his display of portraits is very personal, considering that George W. Bush has seen each world leader during one-on-one meetings and discussions. His canvases also show the ex-president’s personal attitude: British Prime Minister Tony Blair without his publicity smile but with his inner strength as a reliable and understanding political partner; German Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for her tough and determined conduct, portrayed as another cheerful frau; Dalai Lama, whose serene image tells more about the artist, considering that George W. Bush, as years passed, started dedicating more time to reflection, and that art became for him a means of having inner peace. And, of course Russian President Vladimir Putin. This canvas expectedly attracted most visitors’ attention. The amateur artist had painted it relying on his memories of their first meeting in Slovenia, in 2001. George W. Bush had said he could read the ex-KGB man like a book, that all it took was a closer look at his eyes that revealed his soul. Anyway, his portrait of Putin (whom he nicknamed Pootie-Put) shows an enigmatic man with a blank expression on his face.
In an interview with NBC, George W. Bush said he had tried to convey Putin’s staring eyes, that the man treated the US as an enemy in many respects; that when painting his portrait, he felt that Putin saw the world with the US defeating Russia or vice versa.
The least flattering portrait on display is that of the former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, showing a tired and swollen face, with his extravagant head of gray hair too big for the picture frame. This could be a way to take revenge, considering that the Bush administration, while fighting Al Qaeda and hunting down Osama bin Laden, kept suspecting Islamabad of playing a double game, receiving US military aid and helping the architect of 9/11 terrorist attacks escape justice.
His portrait of the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, isn’t attractive either (George W. Bush and his administration had a hard time dealing with Karzai’s regime).
He says he would’ve never painted these portraits if he hadn’t practiced personal diplomacy. He analyzed data pertaining to his characters’ family life and then used it when meeting with these world leaders, among them Prime Minister Tony Blair and the former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, whom G.W. Bush would invite to visit his ranch in Texas.
He started working on his art exhibit in the spring of 2013, creating portraits of politicians whom he had met while in office. All of them were done in less than a year’s time. None had been displayed until now. In his interview with NBC, he said the world leaders he portrayed would be amazed and interested, adding that he admired each of them, and that they would hopefully understand his attitude.