President George W. Bush’s Portrait Paintings of Veterans

Portrait Paintings by the 43rd President of the United States

66 oil portrait paintings are featured in the book, which is part of the former president's veterans initiative.
66 oil portrait paintings are featured in the book, and all sale proceeds will go toward funding the former president’s veterans initiative.

I never really thought he would stick with it. Years ago when I first read that former President George W. Bush was painting, I gave a bit of an eye roll and moved on. But portrait paintings have become both his passion and the foundation of a long-term project and book–releasing today–honoring servicewomen and -men.

Portraits of Courage by President Bush hits the newsstands today. It is the culmination of a painting odyssey in which the former president created dozens of oil portrait paintings of post-9/11 veterans. The portraits in the book are accompanied by an essay about each vet as well, written by the former president.

All proceeds of the book go to the George W. Bush Presidential Center and its Military Service Initiative, which helps vets transition back to civilian life.

Four of more than 60 portrait paintings George W. Bush created.
Four of more than 60 portrait paintings George W. Bush created.

They Are Pretty Good

The former president's has painted tons of subjects including pets and politicians, self-portraits and sunsets.
The former president’s has painted tons of subjects including pets and politicians, self-portraits and sunsets.

I remember the dog portraits, George. And the shower and bath paintings too! It was clear with these humble paintings that former President Bush wasn’t a natural when it came painting. But who is? I’m no great painter either. And that’s what endears these works to me most of all. These portrait paintings aren’t great but they are gutsy, because it is gutsy to show your artwork period, but it is really gutsy when you know the work isn’t perfect and you do it anyway, because it matters to you.

We could all learn a little bit from this–to embrace our abilities as they are right now, and then to simply let the work go. To make it not about us–but about the object itself and what it expresses. Because clearly these paintings are not about the hand of the artist. They are about the subject. President Bush isn’t saying, “Look at me, I’m the painter.” He is saying, “Look at them.”

The artist working on one of his veteran portrait paintings, set to go on exhibit at Southern Methodist University in March.
The artist at work on one of his veteran portrait paintings, set to go on exhibit at Southern Methodist University in March.

It makes me extraordinarily happy to know that one of our former presidents is painting. Of all the things he could do, he’s making art. He’s looking at art and absorbing it, finding his own style and being unapologetic about where his skills are right now, and most of all he is finding meaning through the work.

A Cause That Matters

Both of my grandfathers and one of my grandmothers served in the military. My brother contemplated joining up when he was looking for a step forward in his life. I have three hometown friends who went in. Chances are we all know someone who served, which is part of the poignancy and power of the Portraits of Courage project.

Veterans deserve so much from their country after they leave the “field of battle” and they don’t get nearly enough of it. “It” being resources, employment support, financial aid, health care, mental care…the list goes on. Portraits of Courage reminds us to do what all artists aspire to–to see; to see deeply and truly; to see our veterans and attempt to understand who they are now and how we can support them as they transition to civilian life.

If you are going to be in Dallas, Texas, anytime from March 2 – October 1, 2017, you can see the artwork by President Bush in person. There will be 66 of the portrait paintings and a mural on display at the Southern Methodist University.

For more information on the exhibition of the portrait paintings and the project itself, check out the George W. Bush Presidential Center site. And to purchase your copy of Portraits of Courage, click here.

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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