While in my pot-addled brain, Jeff Koons would be the perfect man to do the job of depicting Trump (for many reasons), I've been combing through some of Donald's other official portraits during his time in office to get a whiff of what future treatment he might be in for. There's this photo that oddly resembles an Apprentice ad, and this one of him looking like an impish cartoon. But the one posted above gave me pause.
Painted by Chas Fagan in 2016, it was the first official oil portrait done of Trump ahead of his inauguration and is part of C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits traveling exhibition. If you think Trump in this portrait gives off a saint-like vibe, you wouldn't be too far off—Fagan painted the official canonization oil portrait of Mother Teresa. Wild shit.
"In most photos, his eyes are in shadow and difficult to see, in part due to his distinctive brow line. But eyes are such a recognizable feature and necessary to give a portrait warmth and personality, so I worked to give them a bit more prominence. I think the result is that we have a softer look into his face than we often get from public media photography."
He's certainly correct that this portrait gives a better view of the man. I've probably stared at it longer than I've looked at his actual face. From this 2020 vantage point, what Fagan captured so well was Trump's look—it's what simultaneously irked me but also drew me to the painting. Particularly the way his gaze seems completely invalidating. His eyes hold a disbelief of the viewer's character and worth, as if he's already tuned you out, thinking up ways to write you off and shake you loose for change. I can almost hear him saying: "Really?"
The production of a post-presidential portrait is a key moment in the manufacturing of his legacy as president, at least visually. And as someone who does not seem to have a sense of decency or humility, accurately capturing the slimy essence of Trump's first (and hopefully only) term brings up several questions for me. How do we formally portray a president that broke with nearly all norms of his office? How to capture a man who elides responsibility? How in detail will his shitty fake tan be? And what poor, sad fuck will get commissioned to do the job?
Trump has already signaled that he doesn't give a fuck about official presidential portrait paintings, opting to skip the tradition of unveiling the official portrait of his immediate predecessor—Barack Obama—earlier this year. I'll be keeping watch.