Ex-US president Bush takes up portraiture of world leaders

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former US president George W. Bush is hoping world leaders will warm to the portraits he's painted of them, which go on exhibition in Texas this weekend.

The two dozen canvases are a key part of The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy, which explores the relationships Bush forged with world leaders during his presidency.

"I think their reaction is going to be, 'Whoa, George Bush is a painter'," quipped Bush in an interview with his journalist daughter Jenna Bush Hager to air on NBC television's Today programme on Friday.

He added: "I hope they take it in the spirit in which these were painted, and that was a spirit of friendship, and that I admired them as leaders and was willing to give it a shot in terms of getting people to see how I felt about them." None of the portraits have been seen publicly before - or, for that matter, by the yet-to-be-identified subjects themselves.

"I'm sure when they heard that I was painting them... they're going to say, 'Whoa, I look forward to seeing a stick figure he painted of me'," said Bush, 67, who took up painting after leaving the White House in January 2009.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the exhibition would run through June 3.

Today aired a snippet of the interview during its broadcast on Thursday and posted it on its website.

We asked local collectors and artists for their take on the former president's artistic efforts.

Colin Lim, art collector
"I read about Mr Bush's exhibition in the FT Weekend and I was surprised it was given front page treatment, even given his status. This is obviously not an endorsement of the quality of his work and it reflects our fascination with celebrity culture.

Bob Dylan and Sylvester Stallone have also had shows of their work recently, I think to more critical acclaim. It is unfortunate that he was interviewed by his own daughter Jenna on NBC's Today show as this sort of conflict of interest is what any reasonable person, especially an artist, wants to avoid.

If I were to write a book, my own daughters would be the last people I want to have interview me! In his heyday, Mr Bush was prone to bravado and this trait is still very much in evidence in the interview. Rembrandt, good grief! Wish that had translated to bravura in his artworks.

Anyone can see that the paintings are amateurish and look rushed. To his credit, the portraits do resemble the world leaders, though if I were Angela Merkel, I would have been slightly miffed with the lopsided eyes in the portrait.

Edward Luce in the FT Weekend piece wrote that Vladimir Putin in the portrait looks like a corpse. In the light of what is going on in Ukraine and Crimea, perhaps Mr Bush really does have the ability to penetrate into the soul of Putin and the other world leaders."

Chris Yap, artistic director of Light Editions
"It's amazingly clear how he sees the different world leaders that he paints. The caricature-like portrait of Japan's Junichiro Koizumi, presents a different side to the telegenic ex-Prime Minister. The stern, almost deformed face of Russian leader Putin projects his sense of entitlement and power. And of course, the feminine pursed-lipped Dalai Lama reflects a rather zen-like silence on world peace. Beautiful. Not."

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