Dallas (CNN) - As former President George W. Bush unveils his paintings for the first time publicly, he said he expects some of the world leaders who were his artistic subjects to be surprised at the quality.
"I think they're going to be (like), 'Wow, George Bush is a painter,"' Bush told NBC's "Today" show in an interview set to air Friday. "I'm sure when they heard I was painting, (they said), 'Wow, I look forward to seeing a stick figure he painted of me.'"
Among those he painted were former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama.
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More than two dozen never-before-seen portraits by Bush will go on public display Saturday at his presidential library in Dallas, in an exhibit entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” The exhibit, which will also include photographs and artifacts, will explore Bush’s relationships with world leaders while in office.
Bush’s paintings first came to light after a hacker last year obtained private Bush family e-mails, which included photos of some of his work. Among the paintings were self-portraits of the 43rd President in the shower and the bathtub while he was looking in a mirror, and some of the paintings featured dogs.
When he was asked about the leaks, Bush told NBC, "It’s an invasion of one's privacy. And yeah, I was annoyed. And nor do I want my paintings to get out. And I found it very interesting the first painting that came out was the one I painted of myself in the bathtub. I did so because I wanted to kind of shock my instructor."
Bush, who started painting lessons after he left the White House in 2009, said he hopes the leaders he chose to depict will take it in the right spirit. "That was the spirit of friendship and that I admire them as leaders and was willing to give it a shot in terms of getting people to see how I felt about them,” Bush told his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, a "Today" correspondent for a segment previewing the exhibit.
He has been reluctant up until now to release any of his works, saying they weren’t ready for public viewing and that he is still learning.
Since leaving office Bush has dedicated his time to two major projects – the program to save the lives of Africans who have AIDS and efforts to help the nation’s veterans, including helping them to find jobs. He also has refused to publicly discuss politics.
Add that all together, and Americans have begun to see him in a better light. Forty nine percent viewed him favorably while 46% saw him unfavorably according to a poll last June from Gallup. When Bush left office in 2009, only 40% of Americans held a favorable opinion of him, a number which sunk to 35% in March of that year before beginning a slow climb out from under water.