I never thought I would be writing art criticism of former president George W. Bush’s first exhibition of paintings. But then again, no one involved in any part of this scenario expected that it would happen.

“I never would have believed you would be working for NBC and that I would have paintings in an art gallery,” Bush told his daughter Jenna, as she interviewed him about the art. Well, technically, in his presidential library, but, you know, potato potato.

The interview also includes such gems as Jenna telling her father, “Maybe you’re not a great artist, but you do take it very seriously” and, later, Barbara Bush declining to comment on whether her son had a passion for painting when he was growing up.

Here are some of the paintings from the NBC segment, which is worth watching in full.

HANDOUT IMAGE: A close up look of a painting of Tony Blair, painted by George W. Bush, it is hung between photos of the two meeting. (Photo by Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center)
A look at a painting of Tony Blair, painted by George W. Bush. (Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center)

Tony Blair is on a light background. (“I think I told Tony I was painting, and he brushed it off,” Bush said of this portrait. “That was an art pun.”) The best and worst that can be said of this painting is that it is recognizably Tony Blair. If you saw someone on the sidewalk who had painted this and laid it out as a sample, you would maybe hire that person to paint a caricature of you with a cartoonishly large head and a tiny body, although you might shop around first to see what other sidewalk painters had to offer.

You can tell that Tony is a world leader that Bush liked because, if he looks a little bit like a creepy canteloupe that has not been getting enough sleep, it does not seem to be on purpose. He seems to be smiling. He has a blue collar and there is a big glob of white paint over near his ear, which might be the work of the Rembrandt Bush claims he has “trapped inside” himself.

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 4: A portrait of Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, painted by former president George W. Bush is displayed between two photographs as part of the exhibit, "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on April 4, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. The exhibit opens to the public on April 5. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)
(Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

I don’t know who this is, but he looks terrifying. {Editor’s note: It is Ehud Olmert, former prime minister of Israel.} Cheery creamsicle-colored background offers some clues as to the former president’s feelings toward him. Good, expressive face. Overtones of Munch. Very Pollock, in the sense that I never knew what Pollock’s paintings were supposed to be of, either.

A portrait of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, painted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, is displayed at "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" exhibit at the Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas April 4, 2014. (REUTERS/Brandon Wade)
(Brandon Wade/Reuters)

At first I thought this portait was of Saddam Hussein, but if so, why is he in front of a bookcase, smiling? Unclear. Nice depth and shading. I would definitely hang this in a guest bathroom.

Paintings of former president George W. Bush are on display with photographs as part of the exhibit, "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on April 4, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images
Paintings of former president George W. Bush are on display with photographs as part of the exhibit, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” (Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

Typical blue period Bush. Concerned expression typical of most of his painting subjects. Interesting use of light and shadow here. Kind of Warhol-esque, in the sense that it is a painting of a person on a canvas with a colorful background, and Warhol did those.


(Benny Snyder/Associated Press)

Bush called this painting of his father a portrait of a “gentle soul.” The light background is in keeping with his portrait of Tony Blair, as is the pinkish-red lining the eye area. If you squint at the pink region, you see what looks sort of like  an outline of the state of Connecticut, but might just be a Rorschach test for your perspective on the Bush I legacy. Barbara Bush had a different reaction to the painting. “That’s my husband?” she asked, first, before correcting to say that she thought it was lovely and really did capture him. Through the eyes of George W. Bush, most world leaders look like terrifying potatoes with red eyes.

A portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai which is part of the exhibit "The Art of Leadership: A President's Diplomacy," is on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Friday, April 4, 2014. The exhibit of world leader portraits painted by former President George W. Bush opens Saturday and runs through June 3. (AP Photo/Benny Snyder)
(Benny Snyder/Associated Press)

This one is Hamid Karzai! You can tell because of the hat!

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin which is part of the exhibit "The Art of Leadership: A President's Diplomacy," are on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Friday, April 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Benny Snyder)
(Benny Snyder/Associated Press)

This is the greatest painting ever painted by a human being. Look well. This is up there with Guernica and the Scream. It is primitive and visceral. It gives Putin the Dorian Gray treatment he has so long been asking for. Look at those creepy scabs of eyebrows. Look at the murky mud-mask of the rest of the face. The background is purple, indicating deep turmoil and mistrust, like you might find in a purple state. 

This is a man who once insulted the size of Bush’s dog, and you can tell.

Look at the eyes.

Look at the eyes.

Look deep into the eyes. You can get a sense of his soul, as Bush did. He did not use the sense of the soul in his international dealings, but instead saved it to put the soul in the painting. If someone stabs the canvas, they will find Putin’s body somewhere with this face on it, and only by the rings will we be able to identify who it is. This is a triumph of the painter’s art.

Bush claims he was inspired by late-period Winston Churchill. I think the secret of Churchill’s reputation was that he never exhibited his paintings on television.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.