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George W Bush to publish book of immigrant oil portraits

George W Bush

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Getty Images

All good art is political, said the writer Toni Morrison, but that is perhaps more true when the art is produced by a former president.

Immigration is the political issue at heart in a forthcoming book of portraits by George W Bush.

Out of Many, One – to be published 2 March – features 43 portraits of immigrants painted by the 43rd US president.

He says he hopes it will draw attention to immigration’s “positive impacts”.

Mr Bush writes in the introduction to the book that immigration is an issue that has sown deep party divisions, but that it is a most American subject at its heart.

“I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue,” he says. “It should be one that unites us.”

“My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country,” he says.

The book draws its title from the motto on the US Seal. Alongside the portraits, it will feature accompanying essays about the individuals written by Mr Bush.

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Penguin Random House

Some of the proceeds from the book will go towards organisations that help immigrants resettle, according to the George W Bush Presidential Center. An exhibition on “the value of immigrants to America” that features these portraits will also open at the centre in Dallas in March.

Mr Bush noted he did not want the book to be published during the election season. He has not endorsed President Donald Trump or former vice-president Joe Biden thus far.

It is not the first time Mr Bush, a Republican, has expressed his support for immigrants. In 2018, amid nationwide discussion over the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy and migrant detentions at the border, Mr Bush said he was “disturbed” by the debate.

“I think it undermines the goodness of America. I think it doesn’t recognise the valuable contributions that immigrants make to our society and [the rhetoric] obscures the fact…that the system is broken and needs to be fixed.”

Last year, speaking at a naturalisation ceremony, the former president said immigration was a “blessing and a strength”. His presidential centre has also made immigration a key part of its policy work.

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Media captionGeorge W Bush: “Immigration is a blessing and a strength”

However, his legacy on immigration during his presidency was more mixed. In 2007, he proposed a divisive reform bill that would have granted paths to citizenship for some 12 million undocumented immigrants.

Critics said this was akin to amnesty for breaking the law, and the bill failed in the Senate.

Since leaving Washington, Mr Bush has become an avid painter and author, publishing several best-sellers, including a collection of portraits of military veterans and a book about his father, former President George HW Bush.

Art critics have noted his improvements as a oil painter since his first works were leaked in 2013 – once dismissed as art by “Forrest Gump”, his 2017 collection was praised as much better.

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