updated 04/03/2014 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/03/2014 AT 6:30 PM ET
What’s the former leader of the Free World supposed to do when he suddenly finds himself with copious free time?
Paint portraits of his cat – obviously.
To the surprise of many, former President George W. Bush has become a passionate painter since vacating the White House in early 2009 – portraying everyone from the Dalai Lama to his cat, Bob – and later this month the 43rd president will publicly display his artwork for the very first time.
The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy, an exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Southern Methodist University, will include some of his portraits depicting the world leaders he met during his two terms in office, including Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama. Yet like any nervous newbie, the budding artist seems a bit apprehensive about their reaction.
“I think they’re going to be [saying], ‘Wow, George Bush is a painter,’ ” Bush said while speaking to daughter Jenna Bush Hager for an interview airing Friday on Today. “I’m sure when they heard I was painting, and if they had, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, I look forward to seeing a stick figure he painted of me.’ ”
Yet it’s clear the new grandfather, 67, has a lot more talent than that, and has been fostering his passion with frequent lessons he says were inspired by the 1948 book Painting as a Pastime by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The world got a glimpse of his art for the first time early last year thanks to a hacker, which showed self-portraits of the former President in the bath. Yet like many contemporary artists, he explained the paintings were meant to push boundaries.