Former President George W. Bush paints portraits of immigrants to 'change the tone' of immigration debate

C.A. Smith Photography for President George W. Bush (C.A. Smith Photography for President George W. Bush)

EXCLUSIVE: A friend of former President George W. Bush said the country needed his voice in the immigration debate. Instead, he offered his paintings – portraits of 43 immigrants, and their stories in an effort to “change the tone” of the rhetoric to focus on the “beauty” of immigration. 

In an exclusive interview with Fox News, the former president described the making of his new book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants,” and what made him pick up the paint brush. 

“It’s something I just came to, I hadn’t been painting all my life,” Bush said. “I started painting eight years ago, and I’ve been painting ever since.” 

“I was busy, but it turns out, I wasn’t fulfilled,” he continued. “Exercising, golfing some, and giving speeches, and writing some other books, and by chance, someone gave me Winston Churchill’s essay, ‘Painting as a Pastime.’ I read it, and as a Churchill admirer, I took a keen interest in his paintings.”

Bush said Churchill’s essay “talked about the joy of painting, and I said, maybe this is what would fill my interests.” 

President George W. Bush’s book "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants"

“And so I said, I’m going to paint, and I hired an instructor and got after it,” he said. “I took it very seriously – it’s the kind of thing you have to work at, and I’m working at it. I’m learning a lot.” 

Bush told Fox News that he had been painting “without a project in mind,” when a friend said the country needed his “voice in the immigration debate.” 

“I said, ‘Well, I’m not so sure I want to get involved in politics,’ and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you paint immigrants,’” Bush recalled. “And it was one of those moments where it was incredibly enlightening, and I thought, wow, great idea.” 

Bush painted, and wrote the book in 2020, but told Fox News that “the timing of the book had little to do with the current debate on immigration.” 

“In other words, it is fortuitous, in my mind, that immigration became such a hot issue,” Bush said. “But the purpose of this book was not to create a hot issue – the purpose of the book was to try to change the tone of the debate and get people to focus on the beauty of immigration, not the sordid side of immigration.” 

"Beacon of Hope," a painting by President George W. Bush. 

Bush told Fox News that changing the rhetoric “starts with this premise that we’re all God’s children, and every life matters.” 

“Well, if that becomes the basis of which to solve a problem, it changes the tone of the rhetoric, and the rhetoric is less alienating, and more welcoming,” he said. 

“And I think you can be both welcoming, and insistent on border enforcement,” Bush said. “And that’s really the purpose of the book.” 

The first immigrant Bush painted was Joseph Kim, who grew up in North Korea, fled to China and made it to the United States. Kim now works for the Bush Institute as an expert in residence in its Human Freedom Initiative. 

“I admire his story incredibly well,” Bush said. “And then I decided, well, if that immigrant needs to be painted, how about Paula, the woman who raised us, and then I got going on it, and once it became clear that the project started taking steam, we decided to limit it to 43.” 

“Out of Many, One” is a collection of stories and oil paintings by President George W. Bush, and spotlights the “inspiring journeys of America’s immigrants and the contributions they make to the life and prosperity of our nation.” 

The book includes portraits and profiles of North Korean refugees fighting for human rights, a Dallas-based CEO who entered the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager, a NASA engineer who “as a girl in Nigeria dreamed of coming to America,” along with other notable figures in business, politics, sports and entertainment. 

In the foreword, Bush writes that he hopes the book “will focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.” 

Proceeds collected from the sale of the book are expected to benefit organizations mentioned throughout its pages that “help immigrants resettle, as well as the Bush Institute” and its work on immigration. 

Bush writes that a “comprehensive immigration solution deserves our serious attention, our benevolent spirit, and our sober analysis.” 

Also in the foreward, Bush refers to the words E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “Out of Many, One,” the title of the book, saying the motto “refers to our country’s makeup of many states and many backgrounds.” 

“It is a nod to one of our greatest strengths – our unique ability to absorb people from different backgrounds and cultures into one nation under God,” Bush writes. “To forever remain a shining city upon a hill, a beacon of liberty, and the most hopeful society the world has ever known, America only needs to remember that strength.” 

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