An exhibit of Bush's paintings is opening at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Friday. "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy," will feature paintings of more than two dozen world leaders, including former British prime minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama. Bush said the portraits were done in the "spirit of friendship." But in an interview on NBC's "Today" show Friday morning with a rather friendly interviewer (his daughter Jenna Bush Hager), Bush had some interesting things to say about his artistic style, the psychology of the people he painted, and why, at age 67, he's still nervous to show his mother his work. Here's a look at a few.
1.) Putin "dissed" Barney, the dog
Bush painted Putin against a purple backdrop, with steely eyes and pursed lips. Bush said he met with Putin "a lot" during his presidency, and their relationship was friendly but got more tense toward the end.
"Vladimir is a person who in many ways views the U.S. as an enemy although he wouldn’t say that," Bush said.
Putin "kind of dissed" Bush's late, beloved Scottish Terrier Barney at the White House, Bush said. "You really call that a dog?" Bush recalls Putin saying.
Bush later went to Russia, where Putin showed off his dog, a large, muscular "hound," Bush said.
"Anybody who thinks my dog is bigger than your dog is an interesting character," Bush said.
2.) He started by drawing stick figures on an iPad
Bush's artistic potential was unleashed when he started drawing stick figures in an iPad app and sending "love notes" to his daughters and wife. He was partially inspired to start painting after reading Winston Churchill's essay "Painting as a Pastime." Painting, Bush said, occupies his mind. He is admittedly "not a great artist," but is driven to get better. "A whole new world has opened up," he said.
Bush has hired an art instructor he hopes will unleash latent talent. "I said, 'there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body, and it’s your job to unleash it,'" Bush said.
3.) His bathtub self-portrait was made to "shock"
Bush wasn't pleased that the Romanian hacker Guccifier released his self-portraits -- one in the shower, another in the bathtub -- to the world. Bush was "annoyed" by the hack, which he called an "invasion of one's privacy." But he thought it was pretty interesting that his bathtub portraits were among the first released to the world. Like many artists, he wanted to provoke. He painted himself in the tub "because I wanted to kind of shock my instructor," he said.
4.) He's not above art puns
Bush painted his good friend, Blair. Bush said Blair hasn't seen the portrait, but it's special because "it conveys a compassionate person and a strong person and a reliable friend," Bush said.
Bush did let Blair know he started painting.
"I think I told Tony I was painting, and he brushed it off," Bush said. "That was an art pun."
5.) He's proudest of a painting of his father
Bush said his favorite painting is one of his father, former President George H.W. Bush. Coincidentally, there is a three-day celebration of George H.W. Bush's presidency this weekend at his presidential library in College Station, Tex., a bash that got a shout-out during the segment.
George W. Bush said his father is a "kind man" and "great listener," who was a "master at befriending people" when it came to foreign policy.
"It was a joyful experience to paint him. I painted a gentle soul," Bush said.
6.) Painting world leaders is one thing. Painting your mom and wife is another.
George W. Bush said he started painting his wife Laura, but it needs some work.
"Don't paint your wife," he said.
Bush said he was most nervous to show his mother his paintings, especially the one of his father. And behold the power of morning television -- they made it happen with a special appearance live from Texas.
"That's my husband?" Barbara Bush asked when shown the portrait.
Clutching a small white dog, Barbara Bush said she likes the one George W. Bush did of his dogs. He gave her a dog painting, and wanted her to write on the back that he'll get it back when she dies, Barbara Bush said. She didn't.
Would Barbara Bush ever let her son paint her?
"Absolutely not," she said.
She was not impressed by the whole morning TV thing.
"This is it?" she asked when the interview was over. "I got up at 4:30 for this?"