*Editor’s Note: Sept. 13 – This story has been edited throughout*
Roughly 300 guests filled the red velvet seats of the George Bush Center auditorium on Wednesday to listen to George W. Bush talk about life as a former president and current artist.
“My life has changed dramatically post presidency,” Bush said. “First, I’m no longer president. Second, I became a grandfather and have become an artist.”
Laura Bush was the first to speak at the event, emerging from behind the left-hand side of stage. She told the audience about how her husband got into painting.
“He always had a perspective of an artist and as a president when he painted,” the former First Lady said.
Bush started by painting his family’s dogs then moved up to more challenging subjects, like world leaders.
Rising up from the audience, Bush headed to the stage following his wife’s opening remarks. He thanked the partners of the Bush Center.
“We’re proud to be partners with SMU, the undefeated football team,” he joked.
Bush then introduced a panel of his painting teachers assembled on the stage, including Gail Norfleet, Sedrick Huckaby and Jim Woodson. Meredith Land, an anchor for NBC 5, was also on hand to help lead the discussion.
The three painting teachers have become his dear friends over the years, Bush said.
“They are all not only my mentors, but all teachers at different universities,” he said. “Here’s the theme, if you’re an artist you have to be a teacher to make a living.”
Norfleet is an art professor who became Bush’s first painting instructor. Norfleet explained how she was in shock when he asked her to teach him. She said yes but was hesitant.
“How are you going to feel about me standing behind you and criticizing your paintings?” she asked.
“I’m used to scrutiny,” Bush joked.
Norfleet said she started Bush off with the basics, including paintings of cubes and watermelons. He then learned to contrast colors and became adventurous with his second painting instructor, Woodson. Eventually, Bush moved on to deeper subjects including painting the portraits of 98 physically or mentally wounded veterans in his book, “Portraits of Courage.”
Sedrick Huckaby told the audience how Bush was equally passionate about the veterans themselves as he was with painting their portraits. Bush personally knew each of their stories.
“When content and form come together, you have a really good dynamic,” Huckaby said.
The accompanying exhibit “Portraits of Courage” will be on display at the Bush Center through Oct. 17.
Meredith Barnes, Bush Center Associate, explained her admiration for the former president’s paintings.
“Each and every piece has an important meaning and Bush took the time to paint every one of them,” Barnes said.
Bush is currently working in the studio of his North Dallas home on paintings dealing with trees on ranches.