In 2013, a hacker released the email of Dorothy Bush Koch, the sister of former president George W. Bush. That’s when the world first saw the former POTUS’s artwork. It was a bit of a shock to be sure—the images were nude self portraits of Bush, one standing the shower, the other contemplating his feet in the bathtub. Since then, however, Bush has become more open about his once secret post-presidential creativity. Now, 43 is showing the world even more of his artwork with a show of his portraits of American veterans at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, reports Eli Watkins and Jamie Gangel at CNN.
The new show, titled Portraits of Courage, includes 66 paintings of wounded military veterans and a four-panel mural. They will remain on display until October 1. The Center is also releasing a book containing the portraits.
“I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage,” the presidnet writes in the book’s introduction reports Entertainment Weekly. “I hope to draw attention to the challenges some face when they come home and transition to civilian life — and the need for our country to better address them.”
Last Veteran’s Day, Bush announced the show in an Instagram post, writing, “Over the past several months, I've painted the portraits of 98 wounded warriors I've gotten to know—remarkable men and women who were injured carrying out my orders. I think about them on #VeteransDay and every day.”
According to Watkins and Gangel, Bush took up painting after reading about Winston Churchill’s preferred hobby, hiring an art instructor to help him discover his “inner Rembrandt.” The hobby has stuck, and Bush recently told Matt Lauer at the Today Show that painting “keeps me active, so I'm not on the couch chewing potato chips all the time. It's one of the great learning experiences.”
This isn’t Bush’s first art show. In 2014, Bush exhibited 30 portraits of world leaders and notable people in a show called “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” Those paintings were based off of photographs and included images of Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama and his own father.
While critics aren’t announcing Bush as a great talent, they have given him some credit for his artistic efforts in the past. Art critic Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine said he loved Bush’s bathroom self portraits. “They are 'simple' and 'awkward,' but in wonderful, unself-conscious, intense ways. They show someone doing the best he can with almost no natural gifts — except the desire to do this,” he writes. “The reclusion and seclusiveness of the pictures evoke the quietude (though not the insight, quality, or genius) of certain Chardin still lifes.”
Bush, however, isn’t displaying his works for the praise—any proceeds from the show or book will go to his Military Service Initiative which helps armed services personnel transition to civilian life.