UNPROFESSIONAL: Never do this to a client.

I'm breaking my own rule ~ "never say anything bad about another painter." 

But Nelson Shanks stepped over the line and damaged himself and the entire profession.

 Shanks claims that "other people do it" and that "it is common thoughout the history of art."
But he is fibbing and insults all portrait artists who spend their careets working with integrity.

Bill Clinton's portrait hanging at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C.
Shanks, the Official Clinton portrait painter hid a nasty Monica Lewinsky scandal reference - and additionally refused to paint the President's wedding ring.

Unfortunately Shanks brags about it on this own website saying, "My career doesn't depend on Bill Clinton."

However, I think that his career now depends on his integrity ~ or the lack of it.

Nelson Shanks, the man who painted the official portrait of Bill Clinton that hangs in the National Gallery, apparently cannot control his dislike of the former President ~ or he wouldn't have sabotaged the official portrait.

And he does not hide that fact.

But really, doesn't this tell us so much more about Nelson Shanks than the client he painted and tried to embarrass, insult and humiliate?

Shanks painted president Ronald Reagan - so now we have to ask: Is that the shadow of the Iran-Contra Affair in the background behind Reagan? Or is it merely Homer Simpson? 

If this is just an ordinary shadow ~ is Mr. Shanks telling us that he approves of all of Reagan's actions in office?

Nelson Shanks in his own words: 

"Clinton and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting."  

"If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things."

"It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him."

Shanks claims that Clinton wanted the picture removed from the National Portrait Gallery, but the Gallery denies that. I wonder what the truth is about that?

Shanks painted the Pope. Is there a hidden reference to the sex scandals and the coverup that shook the Vatican during his reign? If not, why not?

Does Nelson Shanks approve of pedophilia and the abuse of power because he didn't sneak a hidden sex scandal reference into this portrait? Or did he?

It is more than a bit dicey for a portrait painter to pick and choose what "scandals" to showcase. Sadly, it tells us more about the painter - and not much about the subject.
    A political cartoon makes a point about a political issue or event. You'll find them in any daily newspaper ~ look on the editorial pages ~ they're right next to the editorial columns, and across from the opinion essays. 

    Political cartoons are not portraits. They don't belong in museums. They are a very different kind of art form.
The dress shadow wasn’t the only editorializing Shanks did on Clinton's Portrait. He painted the former President without a wedding ring... even though Clinton always wears one. 

However much Shanks hates former President Clinton, putting his personal opinion in a portrait was not what he was hired to do. It is hard not to think less of Nelson Shanks for mean-spirited editorializing in a portrait.

There is a lesson here:

"If you hate your client, do NOT take the commission unless you intend to deliver as expected. It isn't professional to do otherwise." 

More info here.


R.I.P. Nelson Shanks
A fine painter ~ an angry and sad legacy
1937 ~ 2015

News article here.


Candace X. Moore said...

Agreed, Karin. Thanks for posting. Shanks is entitled to his opinion, but this type of portraiture is not about him. He shouldn't get a pass on this one.

Anonymous said...

In a nutshell, this is the problem: Nelson Shanks accepted money for a work he had no intention of delivering. Instead, he chose to sabotage the client.

This is NOT a standard practice of this profession. If he didn't like the client, he should not have agreed to take the job of painting him.

This has nothing to do with whether you think Nelson Shanks is a good painter - or not - or whether you like the craftsmanship in the painting - or not.

This is an issue of ethics - and Shanks proved himself to be unethical by not delivering the work he was contracted to do. Instead he took his private joke public in order to humiliate his client.

I am really disgusted with what Shanks has done here.

My Painting Studio said...

BAD NEWS: Nelson Shanks is erasing all critical comments from his Facebook page.

GOOD NEWS: Nelson Shanks must have woken up and finally realized that he did something wrong and embarrassed himself.

I'd like to think that if he is ever approached by another client who does not share his political and/or moral views, he will refuse the commission. There is nothing wrong with that - for example, I would not paint Hitler or anyone whose face I did not want to look at for a very long time.

I'd also like to think that he will never again take a client's money and use it as an opportunity to humiliate and insult.

Anonymous said...

Clinton's fingers, tie and documents all point to his crotch... very juvenile for a commission. Also the sleeve of his Pope portrait resembles a vagina. I think Shanks has a lot of personal issues that should be left for his personal oeuvre. He should pay back his commission fee.

Jim Serrett said...

I consider this a breach of contract, in any other profession he would be asked to return the money. And if this portrait was paid for by the public then I believe he should return the money he received. This is a betrayal of trust on several levels.

Anonymous said...

With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide.

With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.

This artist seriously needs integrity.

Bruce Williams said...

It is a betrayal, a deception. As he thought he was painting the President's sins into the painting he was covering them with his own.

Anonymous said...

Where did you go? Karen, I noticed there haven't been any postings in quite a while. I have gleened much from your stuff.

MArk in NH

My Painting Studio said...

Dear Mark in NH,

I haven't gone anywhere. I've been working on a book. The book has turned out to be a huge project and, I confess, I set it aside while I painted a couple of portraits. I also had to teach myself how to produce a book on iBooks and have some photo books out now that are reference materials for other artists in the iBooks Bookstore.

I've had a lot of fun with this blog... but stuck in a blog format, it is a disorganized way to teach. The book is a basic manual on How to Paint Classical Realism. I believe that anyone can be taught to paint realism... artists aren't born, they're educated.

I'm writing this book from the point of view that if I had read it many years ago as an art student... I'd have saved myself years and years and years of time and could get where I am now very quickly. It's the book I needed but didn't have.

Painting is a craft before it is an art. If someone else would write this book I wouldn't need to. It isn't a "show-off book" - it's just a nuts and bolts way to master the illusion of reality in paint.

But here is the drawback... it cannot be printed. There are too many photos and the cost would be off the charts. So, electronic is the only way to produce it. The iPad - iBooks format is ideal. Kindle doesn't have the capacity to show detailed photos yet.

Maybe by the time I finish, technology will catch up with me.

I'm about 80% done. Wish me luck.