George W. Bush The Artist Makes His Formal Debut

Apr 4, 2014

Former President George W. Bush has found painting as his new passion to fill the void in his life after he left the White House.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Bush tells his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, “I paint a lot because, as you know, I’m a driven person.”

The occasion was to highlight his portraits of world leaders, which he displays at his library in Texas.

One is of a grim-looking President Vladimir Putin.

Bush says “I got to know him very well. It became more intense as time went on.”

He didn’t comment on Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula, but did say, “Vladimir is a person who in many ways viewed America as an enemy. I tried, of course, to dispel him of that notion.”

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JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

And President George W. Bush makes his formal debut as an artist tomorrow when an exhibit of his portraits of world leaders opens at his presidential library and museum in Dallas. This morning, the 43rd president talked about his paintings in an interview on the "Today" show with his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, who pointed out that her father shocked the family when he picked up a brush for the first time two years ago. She asked him about the portrait of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair that's on display.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No telling how these people are going to react when they see their portrait. I think I told Tony I was painting him, and he kind of brushed it off, so to speak.

JENNA BUSH HAGER: No art pun intended there?

BUSH: That was an art pun.

HAGER: OK. Good job.

BUSH: Anyway...

HAGER: Was he shocked?

BUSH: Yeah. I think that might have been a proper reaction to say, you painted my portrait?

HOBSON: Well, later in the interview, the 67-year-old former president talked about why he wants to paint.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

BUSH: You know, I wanted to make sure that the last chapters of my life were full. And painting, it turns out, would help occupy not only space, but kind of open my mind.

HOBSON: Although Bush admitted that he is not as good of a painter as he would like to be, he said he felt his portrait of a steely eyed and shrewd-looking Russian President Vladimir Putin really captured Putin. We remember, of course, that early in his first term President Bush said he looked into Putin eyes and saw his soul. Well, in today's interview Bush described an encounter with Putin that he says tells you a lot about the Russian leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

BUSH: Our dear dog, Barney, who has a special spot in my heart, I introduced him to Putin. Putin kind of dissed him. You really call that a dog? A year later, your mom and I go to visit Vladimir at his dacha outside of Moscow, and he says, would you like to meet my dog? Out bounds this huge hound, obviously much bigger than a Scottish terrier. And Putin looks at me and says, bigger, stronger and faster than Barney.

HAGER: And you kind of thought, is this symbolic? What did you think...

BUSH: Well, I just - I took it in. I didn't react. I just said, wow, you know, anybody who thinks my dog is bigger than your dog is an interesting character.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

HOBSON: Well, President Bush's art exhibit opens tomorrow at his presidential library in Dallas. We'll link to it at our website, hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.