Vilas Tonape, an Indian American artist, was recently invited by President George W. Bush to his mansion in Dallas, Texas. After serving the people of the U.S., President Bush took up painting and started learning from Jim Woodson, one of Tonape’s former professors who referred him to the President.
After all these years of painting, Bush was ready to learn portrait painting. So Tonape received a call from Bush’s office in October of last year and the President himself asked him to come to his art studio, which is on the second floor of his Dallas mansion, and teach him portrait painting.
“When the President himself spoke to me on the phone, I literally stood up as I continued the conversation with him. It wasn’t until the conversation was over that I realized I had no reason to stand up as he (Bush) couldn’t see me,” Tonape told News India Times in a phone interview.
After going back and forth with their schedules and a mandatory background check, Tonape was finally set to go to Dallas on March 14.
“When I entered the driveway, President Bush came to receive me and took my box of paints from me even though I insisted to carry it myself. The lesson started at around 9 a.m. and (First Lady) Laura Bush offered to model for the portrait,” Tonape said.
“President Bush was a very good and attentive student. He was acting like a graduate student, asking a lot of important questions. We discussed color theory and other important aspects of painting portraits. However, what struck me the most was when he went to get a Kleenex for Mrs. Bush, I added some color to the lips of the portrait. When he returned, he happened to notice that I had done something to the lips,” he added.
Tonape described the lesson to be a fun and lively one as President Bush has a great sense of humor. During their break for lunch, President Bush told Tonape about his interest in portrait painting and mentioned that he had once painted a picture of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, adding that he had a wonderful experience in India whenever he visited.
When the lesson was over a little after 3 p.m., President Bush offered to clean Tonape’s brushes for him though again he insisted to do it himself. Tonape then told President Bush to keep painting and email him with further results of his paintings before he left for the day.
Tonape’s work has been exhibited in several cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Ontario and Bombay. He has won numerous awards in the U.S. and India, according to his website.
He received his BFA in Drawing and Painting from the Sir J.J. School of Art, University of Bombay, India, and came to the U.S. in 1994 to pursue his MFA in Painting from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Tonape now chairs the department of art at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and has been annually going back to India to teach others his creativity.
Tonape considered it to be an honor to teach portrait painting to President Bush and hopes to be invited by President Barack Obama one day, after which, he joked “I would quit painting.”
He also mentioned that he would love to paint a portrait of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for which he would drop everything to fly to New Delhi, anytime. Tonape works in both figurative and non-representational modes, focusing on nature; to him painting “is music for the eyes.”