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The Portrait Art of George W. Bush
Ignore the media and the cluttered exhibition. The former president has talent.


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Like most contemporary artists, Bush uses photography extensively in his work, but he has professional sources, many of whose images have since filtered to the Internet.

Bush’s portrait of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is probably his most egregious less-than-remarkable piece. The photo the painting was based on is just to its right, and in both we see what photographers call a “between-expressions expression.”

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Olmert’s face is between smiling and whatever comes next, and Bush is still laughing. But the painter must have liked that photo. Olmert’s painted eyes and forehead are vivid and real, and his ears are among Bush’s best, but the mouth and chin look clownish.

Bush’s portraits usually employ plain color backgrounds with soft streaks that vaguely outline the heads of the heads of state. The background in the portrait of Rawanda President Paul Kagame is a little more fanciful, though it renders Kagame smaller and less important by tucking him into the bottom corner of a nondescript sky.

A more unusual Bush background serves his portrait of the late Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic. In place of the usual fog of neutral space, we see a wall of books behind the successful playwright, author, essayist, poet, dissident and politician.

That’s not the only departure. Havel has a big smile and dresses informally. He is not looking at the camera/painter because he is having too good a time. We may have issues with whatever is growing on his neck, but his face wins us back with its broad smile and filigree wrinkles.

The paintings of father and son Presidents 41 and 43 are the first we see. They are Bush 43’s self-portrait and what he calls a “loving study” of his father. The elder’s forehead and cheeks may puff and sag, but the image affects with sweet poignancy.

The artist takes more liberties with his own image, which may be his most recent. The style is very different, with looser, more obvious brushwork, bolder outlines and more vibrant hues, especially in the planes of neck and face. This slightly askance portrait seems more contemporary and informal — jaunty yet serious.

The artist is learning his craft.

— J R Compton has been writing about Dallas art and artists for 50 years, about birds for the last six, and his online How to Photograph Art may be definitive.


Presidential Portraits
Former president George. W. Bush recently unveiled a collection of his portraits of world leaders, the latest chapter in a hobby he’s embraced since leaving the Oval Office. Here’s a look at the artistic side of the 43rd president.
“The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy” presents a collection of 25 paintings at the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Texas. The portraits represent some of the many politicians with whom he worked during his presidency.
Each portrait in the collection is accompanied by photography and artifacts chronicling their interactions with Bush. Pictured, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s portrait and display.
The display for former British prime minister Tony Blair
Photographs and a portrait of Afghan president Hamid Karzai
Bush says he was inspired by another former world leader with a talent with the brush: Winston Churchill. He has taken lessons from local artist Gail Norfleet, and now jokes that he has “a Rembrandt trapped in this body.”
Bush says his favorite portrait in the collection is of his father and 41st president George H.W Bush.
Self-portrait of George W. Bush
Russian president Vladimir Putin
Former British prime minister Tony Blair
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy
Former Australian prime minister John Howard
Indian prime minster Manmohan Singh
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi
Afghan president Hamid Karzai
Former Mexican president Felipe Calderon
Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi
Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak
Abu Dhabi crown prime Mohammed bin Zayed
Updated: Apr. 07, 2014

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