Bill Clinton Just Wants to Paint

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

It was surprising enough when Justin Timberlake showed up at the New York Academy of Art's annual Tribeca Ball last night and meandered through the booths, asking the students about their work. (One student told us that JT made detailed inquiries about technique and mentioned he wanted to take a painting class.) But it was downright shocking when, later that evening, Bill Clinton walked in the door. “I just finished a thing at Madison Square Garden with Billie Jean King and I got invited by Eileen Guggenheim and I had some time, so I thought I’d swing by afterwards,” he said, strolling toward the ballroom, which had been painted like a black-and-white forest and was lined with replicas of Greek figurative statues. “Oh, now isn’t this fantastic!”

We asked the president if he himself had any artistic talents. “Most people would say no,” he said, laughing. “But I’m very interested. I’ve been reading a lot about people who took up painting in later life. Hillary and I actually have two paintings at home from Tony Bennett, who is a good friend. Winston Churchill was a very good painter. Did you know that? Eisenhower, too — but not as good as Churchill. So I’ve been making a list of all the things I want to do now that I’m full-time philanthropy, and painting is one of them. I just haven’t started yet.”

At that point, a crowd of people swarmed upon Clinton, who gamely shook hands and regaled all comers. Within minutes, though, he began to make his exit, and — we swear to God this happened — locked eyes with us and grabbed our hand. “You know, in all my years of interviews, no one has asked me about my artistic skills,” he said, excitedly, still clutching our hand. (He held it for like a MINUTE. We died.) “They saved all my doodles from the White House. I do know that," he added. "I used to doodle during all the White House meetings and someone thought they were worth saving. Maybe they weren’t bad!” We asked whether this interest in painting meant he was hoping to follow in other Churchillian footsteps. “I don’t know about that,” Clinton laughed. “No. See, they’ve now learned that one of the best ways to stave off Alzheimer’s is to do new things. Studies are showing that you can form new neural networks into your 70s as long as you do something new. So if I were a nuclear physicist, the best way for me to keep from losing my memory is not to work on five physics equations a day, but to learn beginning Spanish! I promised Hillary I’d make a list of all the new things I could do. Painting is one of them.” Anything else on the list? “Learn Spanish.”