George W Bush presents TV host Jay Leno with a portrait - and it ain't half bad

The former president's hobby really gathered steam when he hired an art teacher to give him pointers
  • @dusborne

When he was in office his critics called him a paint-by-numbers president. But it turns out that in retirement, George W Bush is a bit of dab-hand with the brush and palette.

Take a look at the portrait he did of Jay Leno in time for an appearance on his late night show on Tuesday. It ain’t half bad.

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“I’m a painter,” Mr Bush told the host at the start of a conversation that mostly centred on his hopes for his legacy and why he has kept such a low profile since departing the White House nearly five years ago.

“You may not think I’m a painter. I think I’m a painter.”

The hobby, he revealed, really gathered steam when he hired an art teacher to give him pointers at his and former first lady Laura’s home in the posh Preston Hollow enclave in Dallas, Texas.

“There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” he said he told her at the first of their weekly sessions. “Your job is to find it.”

The appearance started after Mr Leno threw some arrows in the direction of his guest’s successor, Barack Obama, and the current flap over the roll-out of his healthcare reforms.

It led Mr Bush almost to commiserate and express thanks it isn’t him taking the flak. “Eight years is plenty. I don’t miss the spotlight.”

Even going to Mr Leno’s studio was a break from Mr Bush’s preferred mode of virtual post-presidency purdah. Keeping out of Mr Obama’s way has been his guiding philosophy since leaving Washington.

“I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president criticise his successor,” Mr Bush said.

The 43rd president said  he remains relaxed about his legacy, never mind the memories of his rotten poll numbers when he left and the scars of the Iraq War.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing, first and foremost,” he offered. “I relied upon my faith, my family helped a lot and I had a good team around me and did the best I could do. I’m also very comfortable with the fact that it’s going to take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not. And therefore I’m not too worried about it.”

Even when asked about a health scare this October when doctors found an almost entirely blocked artery to the heart and inserted a stent, Mr Bush evinced total calm.

“I wasn’t that scared,” he insisted.

As for why it happened, he replied: “I didn’t behave that well when I was younger and I might have smoked some.”

“You had Obamacare?” Mr Leno joked, but again failed to get the former president to comment.

The wide-ranging interview also took in the latest addition to the Bush family, his daughter Jenna’s new baby, which Mr Bush admitted had been difficult to get used to. He said he had difficultly connecting with the baby, “cause the kid didn’t say much” although now he said he was “hooked”.

Clearly the painting is working well as therapy.