Some are haunted, some are piercing, some appear to be seeking answers to an unnerving, unspoken question, and some — not many, but some — are happy, crinkled into joyous slits above broad grins.
According to the artist, the former President George W. Bush, the eyes are the trickiest part of portrait painting.
“If you notice, most of these start with the eyes. They really are the gateway to the soul,” said former Army Cpl. Joshua Mitchell, whose own eyes were captured in portraiture, along with those 97 other wounded veterans, by the 43rd president. “I know that sounds cliché … a lot of people don’t give him credit for because of his Texas antics, think he’s a caricature … but he’s deeply serious … like he really is trying to look inside us.”
Bush’s portraits of injured veterans made their debut in the 2017 bestseller “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.” They have traveled and been showcased at small museums around the country.
But this month, they landed in their most prominent exhibition venue to date: the new, $175 million dollar addition to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The show, to mark Veterans Day, is the first art exhibit to be hosted at the facility, which opened Sept. 8.
Like all exhibitions of Bush’s veterans’ portraits, the artist was not in attendance at the opening on Oct. 7. The man who famously doesn’t sign his portraits because he doesn’t want to take away from the subject matter, left the introduction to the service members whose visages are featured in the larger-than-life color portraits.
Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said the exhibit, Portraits of Courage, is a “fitting first exhibition to be hosted in the REACH,” the new space’s name.