updated 04/09/2014 AT 1:45 PM ET
•originally published 04/09/2014 AT 12:30 PM ET
The world first learned that George W. Bush had taken up painting in February 2013 after a hacker broke into his sister Dorothy s email account and discovered two self-portraits – later posted online – of the former U.S. president in the shower and bathtub.
In the months that followed, other paintings by Bush began to leak out – dogs, cats, a watermelon, a horse, a landscape of a golf course. Bush even presented a portrait of Jay Leno to the late-night talk show host during one of his final broadcasts.
Now, the latest of our Portraitist in Chief’s artistic works have been put on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, in an exhibit (“The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy”) that spotlights 30 oil-on-board paintings of world leaders Bush dealt with during his time in office – from a stern-faced Vladimir Putin to a girlish-looking Angela Merkel. The works will remain on display through June 3.
Shortly after the exhibition was unveiled last week, Twitter and other social media sites erupted with popular opinion. In the hopes of adding some expert commentary to the buzz, PEOPLE asked Bill Arning, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, to survey GW’s collection.
Bill Arning: They definitely have something that makes them kind of memorable. I have a number of Dallas friends intending to hightail over to see them in person. It s worth a side trip to go see these, just for cocktail party conversation alone. They are (Chaim) Soutine-like portraits, thickly painted in what I would call “high-amateur” mode by someone who has clearly studied a little art history and worked with an art teacher.
Beyond Soutine, they also remind me of (paintings done by) a number of emerging artists in New York like Erik Hanson. His portraits are remarkably similar (to these). If I walked into some Chelsea gallery and saw this as a precocious 24-year-old Yale graduate (and saw these paintings), I’d say: “Oh, this is an interesting take on portraiture in 2014. Nothing wrong with that at all.”
The Putin one was interesting, but it strikes me as being one of the least lively in the series. He looks somewhat Freddy Krueger-like – although I’m not sure if that was his intention or not. I kind of like the portrait of his dad: