NC portrait artist adds to presidential series

Charlotte artist and sculptor Chas Fagan has painted every president in history, with his latest being the first presidential portrait of Donald Trump.

Courtesy of Chris Fagan / Copyright C-SPAN—0
Portrait of Donald Trump by Charlotte artist Chris Fagan.

Charlotte artist and sculptor Chas Fagan has painted every president in history, with his latest being the first presidential portrait of Donald Trump.Throughout history, artists have sought to capture the true character of our world’s leading figures through different lighting, settings, symbolic props and backgrounds, urging viewers to reflect on the moment in time when that particular person was called on to serve a nation or a cause. There is indeed a silent beauty to the art of portraiture, one Fagan has mastered, along with a tremendous historical aptitude.”I’m an American, everywhere is a story to tell,” said Fagan in regards to his political views and involvement in the Presidential Portrait Series. Commissioned by C-SPAN since 1999 for the American Presidents: Life Portrait Exhibit, Fagan has painted each president in somewhat of the same manner, each leader placed into focus within a gold border. For the first 41 presidents, he was given a 90-day window to complete, and his most recent and 45th subject in the series is Trump, the president-elect’s first portrait since being elected.With Fagan, describing himself as a history buff is an understatement. As an American citizen growing up in Belgium, Fagan had a deep curiosity about the notion of “the American abroad” and how our history, culture, basic personality traits look when transplanted away from our comfort zone. “Part of my childhood was growing up abroad … being proud as an American abroad and becoming an ambassador to people abroad, that plants it for you when you’re little,” Fagan said. “I was always proud of American history and trying to defend it.”Viewing American history in the context of worldwide events and places stayed with Fagan. He graduated from Yale with a degree in Soviet Studies and it wasn’t until some years later he decided to become a painter and sculptor.Fagan, a self-taught artist, has depicted a number of historical and political figures by first drawing political cartoons. Now, he’s broadened his horizons. His Ronald Reagan statue sits at Reagan Airport, and he also did the official canonization oil portrait of Mother Teresa. As far as presidents go, Fagan’s studio in itself seems somewhat dedicated to their existence. In the corner sits a portrait of Reagan, to the left, a bust of Abraham Lincoln. While commissioned for public viewing, the C-SPAN presidential portraits reveal Fagan’s personal, intimate style and a humble disposition that is evident when speaking about his love of our nation’s history.Barack Obama looks straightforward, as does the portrait of John F. Kennedy. Lincoln and George Washington look with shoulders squared to the side, yet the diverse color palettes distinguish the two leaders: bright reds are highlighted on Washington’s suit and Lincoln is captured in earthy tones of gold and green. Fagan’s talent is in displaying personality beyond the suit and stare. “We’ve had different characters for sure, we just kind of forget,” he said. “The portraits, they’re all painted in the exact same palettes, they all look historic, but we kind of forget those were real people with all kinds of challenges.”A close look at the recent Trump portrait displays similar characteristics. Fagan recalls the most difficult part to paint were Trump’s eyes. Although he referred to a number of various campaign photographs for the portrait, they often displayed shadowing from Trump’s prominent brow line that made his eyes, which Fagan ultimately captured in a steady, confident gaze, tricky to portray effectively.While painting new presidents is now a four- or eight-year experience, Fagan notes the recent election and also opposition from the election is a natural part of history.”What hit me the most in doing all of [the presidential portraits], was that there were 40 transitions of power in America up until that time,” Fagan said. “No matter who they were, there was this peaceful transition because that’s what we do. It’s a continuum of history, the system that works for us, in America, it’s just that. Dealing with that collection, you’re thinking about the entirety of the history and [Trump’s] now the next guy.”For the past 17 years, the American portrait series has been touring the United States. Fagan’s painting of Trump will debut in Canton, Ohio, at the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in late February.