The Washington Post

George W. Bush, Renaissance man


Former presidents George H.W. Bush, left, and George W. Bush attend the George W. Bush Presidential Center dedication ceremony on April 25, 2013, in Dallas. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Unlike some former presidents who started a global initiative or a public policy center or went skydiving on the occasion of a 90th (and 85th and 80th) birthday, George W. Bush has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since leaving office.

But in the past few months Bush has been edging closer to the Klieg lights, but in a very different way than most of his predecessors. Instead of weighing in on politics or policy, Bush is, for the most part, letting his art do the talking.

Crown Publishers announced Wednesday that Bush has been working on a biography of his father, former president George H.W. Bush. The book will be published in November.

This is quite a diversion from how Bush spent his precious free time while in office: mountain biking and clearing brush from his Crawford, Tex., ranch. As our colleague Lisa Rein wrote in 2005, "On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here, President Bush's idea of paradise is to hop in his white Ford pickup truck in jeans and work boots, drive to a stand of cedars, and whack the trees to the ground."

Since leaving Washington, Bush has discovered his artistic side and has developed it in a man cave turned studio in his Dallas area home. It was initially unleashed by, of all things, an iPad. Bush started doodling on it and sending "love notes" to his wife and daughters, he told one of those daughters, Jenna Bush Hager, an NBC correspondent, on the network's "Today" show. The painting went from there. Bush was inspired, in part, by another world leader who took up painting: Winston Churchill, who wrote an essay called "Painting as a Pastime."

Bush displayed some of his works, including paintings of Russian President Vladimir Putin former British prime minister Tony Blair, at an exhibit earlier this year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Some of Bush's first paintings, including ones of him in the bathtub and shower (they were made to "shock," he said), were leaked by a Romanian hacker named "Guccifier."

Bush admitted that he's "not a great artist" and has hired an art teacher to help him get better. "I said, 'there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body, and it’s your job to unleash it,'" Bush quipped.

Now Bush has turned toward writing. In what Crown is billing as a "unique and intimate biography," the book will span the entirety of the elder Bush's life, from his military service to his work in the oil business in West Texas to his turn toward politics.

"George H. W. Bush is a great servant, statesman, and father,” George W. Bush said in a statement. “I loved writing the story of his life, and I hope others enjoy reading it."

George H.W. Bush has been somewhat of a muse for his son's artistic endeavors: George W. Bush said he is most proud of a portrait he painted of his father.

George W. Bush said in the "Today" interview that 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.

Bush has also been indulging in another pastime - baseball. The former owner of the Texas Rangers honored New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who is retiring at the end of this season, at a pregame ceremony in Arlington, Tex., this week.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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