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A-list artist

By Karel Bond Lucander | Photography by Meredith Jones

Posted: Friday, Nov. 02, 2012

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One of his paintings hangs in the White House, and one of his sculptures stands inside the Capitol Rotunda. Those who have commissioned Chas Fagan’s art include past presidents, the National Cathedral and perhaps the most well-known Charlotte bank executive.

Shortly after moving to Charlotte with his family in 2002, Fagan – already internationally renowned – was interviewed on WFAE. At home afterward, his doorbell rang and there stood Bank of America’s newly retired CEO, Hugh L. McColl, Jr. He had just heard Fagan on the radio and stopped by to request a portrait of his own.

Though it was surprising, for Fagan it was more like déjà vu. In fact, a good portion of his career has evolved from unexpected requests.

His first auspicious break came in 1997, while living in Philadelphia. The art director of The Weekly Standard in New York City called Fagan to paint the magazine’s next cover. An 18-by-24-inch oil painting of Ronald Reagan was due within 24 hours. Fagan took the job.

The day the magazine hit the stands, former members of Reagan’s White House staff called and urged him to compete for a commission to paint Ronald Reagan’s portrait for The Union League Club in Manhattan. He won that project, too, and since then has sculpted more likenesses of Reagan than any other artist, including his most recent 9-foot-tall, $900,000 bronze statue at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Though he was born in Pittsburgh, Penn., Fagan spent his childhood in Brussels, Belgium. There, he would study the masters’ paintings in museums.

“I would run from one painting to the next making mental notes,” says Fagan. “I was also doodling Roman or medieval scenes. And the fine art of Belgium culture is cartooning. ‘Tintin’ was always popular there, and that inspired me.”

When his family moved back to Pennsylvania, Fagan began cartooning while in high school at Phillips Academy. He continued crafting that skill at Yale University for the Yale Daily News and later the New Haven Register.

“That experience convinced me I may be able to survive by drawing ink on paper, and someone might actually pay me,” he says.

Fagan continued cartooning for newspapers and magazines with a syndicate until 1996. He then began painting landscapes and portraits.

As his reputation in the art world continues to escalate, he is chosen for one exciting assignment after another. A few highlights include painting three portraits of Barbara Bush; rendering five statues for the National Cathedral, the latest being of Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa; creating the “Spirit of Mecklenburg,” a sculpture of Captain James Jack; and designing a bronze statue of Neil Armstrong for the astronaut’s alma mater, Purdue University.

“It is intended to look like him as an engineering student, right down to the windbreaker and even penny loafers with no pennies,” Fagan describes. “He sent me his own notebooks and slide rule so I could reproduce them. Since it has been installed, students sit next to him while they eat their lunches. There is a parallel path I put in with stone copies of his footprints, cast with a real moon boot. Down the path, there is a wide gap to make the final leap.”

Another stellar assignment was high on profile but short on time. C-SPAN commissioned him to paint portraits of every U.S. president – with only 90 days to deliver them. The portraits would become part of C-SPAN’s Peabody Award-winning series that originally aired in 1999.

According to Howard Mortman, communications director for C-SPAN, “He was the only artist considered. With this project, Chas also achieved the distinction of being the only artist to create individual portraits of every president. Since the end of the series, he has been called into service to do portraits of George W. Bush and Barack Obama for the touring exhibit.”

Locally, Fagan’s artwork is represented at Shain Gallery in Myers Park. And though he has produced a monumental collection, Fagan is remarkably humble.

“Chas is very talented and is almost like a historian. His knowledge is great, and he researches his subjects meticulously,” says Joy Widener, director of the gallery. “He is one of the best.”

For more information on Fagan’s work, visit www.chasfagan.com.

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