SUNDAY TIMES - George W Bush's commitment to his new craft produces 66 US military veteran portraits
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Sunday Times Lifestyle By HARRIET ALEXANDER, 2017-03-16 13:13:00.0

George W Bush's commitment to his new craft produces 66 US military veteran portraits

The compilation of studies of US military veterans is topping the best-seller lists in the US.
Image: LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP

George W Bush's book of paintings has been praised by leading art critics, with some describing the former president's work as surprisingly sophisticated and warm

The book, published on February 28, is currently top of The Washington Post's list of bestsellers.

And the newspaper's chief art critic, Philip Kennicott, said that the 66 portraits of former soldiers, sold in aid of veterans, show the former president honing his craft.

"No matter what you think of George W Bush, he demonstrates in this book and in these paintings virtues that are sadly lacking at the top of the American political pyramid today: curiosity, compassion, the commitment to learn something new and the humility to learn it in public," said Kennicott.

"There is ample evidence that the former president is more humble and curious than the Swaggering President Bush he enacted while in office. And his curiosity about art is not only genuine but relatively sophisticated."

In the book, entitled Portraits of Courage: A commander in chief's tribute to America's warriors, Bush writes about each of the soldiers he depicted.

"I'm not sure how the art in this volume will hold up to critical eyes," he writes in the introduction. "After all, I'm a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with a lot of care and respect."

The 70-year-old says he was inspired by the work of Lucian Freud, Wayne Thiebaud, Jamie Wyeth, Ray Turner, Fairfield Porter and Joaquín Sorolla.

He writes a witty account of how he first took up painting, on leaving the White House.

"For the first time in my 66 years, I picked up a paintbrush that wasn't meant for drywall," he wrote. "I selected a tube of white paint and another labelled Burnt Umber. While I wasn't aware at the time that it was a colour, I liked the name, which reminded me of Mother's cooking."

And for each of the subjects, he tells their story with what Kennicott saw as "genuine empathy".

Describing Corporal David Smith's recovery from a suicide attempt, Bush writes: "Dave sought professional counselling and got prescription medication for his anxiety, depression, and nightmares. Having confronted his trauma and learned to understand and accept it, he began building a new life."

The 66 portraits of former soldiers, sold in aid of veterans, show the former president George W Bush honing his craft. Image: LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP

Another of his subjects, Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Goehner, suffered from PTSD.

Bush writes: "Little by little, Chris started to recover. He got down from 12 medications to zero. He realised alcohol didn't numb the memories but exacerbated them. He started to participate in marathons and triathlons ."

The profits from the book will be donated to a military and veterans' initiative run by the George W Bush Presidential Centre. — ©The Daily Telegraph

• This article was originally published in The Times.