George W. Bush Says He's 'Still Learning' When It Comes to His Painting

George W. Bush Says He's 'Still Learning' When It Comes to His Painting
President George W. Bush and his painted Christmas ornament
NBC/Getty; Courtesy George W. Bush

04/03/2014 AT 06:30 PM EDT

What's the former leader of the Free World supposed to do when he suddenly finds himself with copious free time?

Paint portraits of his cat – obviously.

To the surprise of many, former President George W. Bush has become a passionate painter since vacating the White House in early 2009 – portraying everyone from the Dalai Lama to his cat, Bob – and later this month the 43rd president will publicly display his artwork for the very first time.

The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy, an exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University, will include some of his portraits depicting the world leaders he met during his two terms in office, including Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama. Yet like any nervous newbie, the budding artist seems a bit apprehensive about their reaction.



"I think they're going to be [saying], 'Wow, George Bush is a painter,' " Bush said while speaking to daughter Jenna Bush Hager for an interview airing Friday on Today. "I'm sure when they heard I was painting, and if they had, they're going to say, 'Wow, I look forward to seeing a stick figure he painted of me.' "

Yet it's clear the new grandfather, 67, has a lot more talent than that, and has been fostering his passion with frequent lessons he says were inspired by the 1948 book Painting as a Pastime by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The world got a glimpse of his art for the first time early last year thanks to a hacker, which showed self-portraits of the former President in the bath. Yet like many contemporary artists, he explained the paintings were meant to push boundaries.



"I was annoyed. It's an invasion of one's privacy," he said of the hack. "I found it very interesting the first painting that came out was the one I painted of myself in the bathtub. I did so because I wanted to kind of shock my instructor."

"I wanted to learn about painting – water hitting water,'' he added. "It kind of shows my sense of humor, I think. A little odd it was the first one to get released, and the truth of the matter is my paintings are not ready to be released. I mean, I'm still learning, and I don't know if they ever will be or not."

Less controversial are the paintings of his cat, Bob – even if they happen to be the favorite of wife and former First Lady Laura Bush.

"He's very disciplined,'' Laura Bush told Jenna on air, referring to her husband's artistic dedication. "He comes up and works every single day, which is why he's improved and can do points of 'Bob the Cat' that are so good."

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