Elizabeth McClancy first encountered Rahm Emanuel at a 2008 Chicago exhibit of her portraits of leading liberal politicians.
“You’re next,” she told him.
His response, she recalls: “Get outta here.” McClancy says she explained to him her exhibit’s title, “Democratic Principles”:
“I want to show you guys doing what you’re supposed to be doing — listening, talking, arguing . . . ”
“Yelling,” Emanuel suggested. “You should paint them yelling.” The next day, she said, he returned to the show with his young son. “Come here,” he ordered, pulling McClancy over to meet the boy. “Tell him I was next.”
The artist, 60, who moved to Washington two years ago, started painting only five years ago, an escape from the stress of a nonprofit job. She kicked off her series of 22 Democrat portraits with one of Madeleine Albright, but she insists she’s not trying to exalt anyone: Each portrait is paired with a quote from the subject about democracy that she’d like to hold them to. “This was done as an admonishment. It wasn’t done necessarily as praise,” she told us. “If we’re all going down, at least stand up for something.”
Her images, priced at $20K and up, are based on wire photos of the pols in action; she avoided the legal flap that entangled graphic artist Shepard Fairey (he of the Obama “Hope” poster) by first getting permission from the photographers. And she says reviews from the subjects have been largely positive — Albright, John Kerry and Chuck Schumer hung the paintings in their offices — except for one: “Robert Byrd said it made him look too old.”