“I don’t think of myself like the people in the National Portrait Gallery, even if other people do,” says the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has become the face of the epidemic. Better and worse. “You never see yourself at that level.”
Fauci has been photographed too many times to count and people have sent him dozens of paintings — most notably singer-artist Joan Baez, who called him and said: “I admired what you did. I have a picture of you.” The two became friends; last year, Fauci was her date when Baez received the Kennedy Center Honors.
“You always think that things don’t do you justice until you realize that your own image of yourself is a little skewed compared to what the world sees,” he says. In Fauci’s mind, he is much more human than he is often portrayed: “I don’t take such personal nonsense seriously. Brad Pitt was on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with me. As much as I’d like to be Brad Pitt, I know I’m not Brad Pitt.”
The gallery’s portrait sculpture is a decidedly modern take on the category: artist Hugo Crosthwaite made graphite and charcoal drawings and adapted them into animated video, which will be shown on November 10 as part of the gallery’s Portrait of a Nation award. (Other honorees include José Andrés, Clive Davis, Ava DuVernay, Marian Wright Edelman, and Serena and Venus Williams.)
A successful pairing of subject and artist is a feat of creative matching; As much about chemistry as artistry. Gallery curators thought Crosthwaite, the winner of its 2019 portrait competition, would be an intriguing complement to Fauci.
“They said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but we have someone for you, one of our real stars,'” Fauci recalls. “And then they said, ‘But he’s a lot unusual.’ I said, ‘Okay. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting.’ “
Crosthwaite recalls, “They suggested Fauci and I almost fell out of my seat. Yes, yes, definitely Yes!”
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The process began a year ago with an hour-long interview at Fauci’s kitchen table, where the artist quizzed him about his career. He then returned to his Mexican home, where he created 19 black-and-white images depicting the two historical bookends of Fauci’s life: his role in the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the 2020 pandemic.
Crosthwaite, whose works encompassed social issues, wanted to capture not just the man but the era. He knew he wanted to make a stop-motion animation based on those drawings; The trick was how to squeeze everything into a five-minute video.
In that private room in the gallery, surrounded by classic photos of first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, Fauci watches the final video, which plays on a loop surrounded by seven paintings.
“The tempo of the music immediately draws you in because it matches the way he paints,” explains Fauci. The National Institutes of Health building where he is based, his lab, his co-workers — and then HIV victims and AIDS activists demand that Fauci and the government do more.
The action fast-forwards to a new virus – the coronavirus – attacking a dying woman’s lungs. “Here I am now in the White House as President with my famous palm on my head [Trump] Said something completely ridiculous,” he points out. Then pictures of protesters against vaccines and masks.
Now a note on Fauci’s face—serious, thoughtful: “Here I am getting a little old. Do you see my eyes?” It’s the first thing you notice; He looks extremely sad.
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This portrait is as much about Fauci as it is about suffering and death. The differences between are striking for him Two eras of vocal protestors: Activists in Act Up, a movement to draw more attention to the AIDS crisis, unlike anti-vaccine activists, sought to cure a disease that Fauci says defies reality and common sense.
He respected and became close friends with those activists from the 1980s – and remains so today. “They were good people and there was no way they were going to hurt me,” he says. “So I didn’t need the protection I have now with people who really wanted to hurt me.”
Fauci has no problem explaining the journey, but he has trouble articulating how it feels. “You remember yourself when you were quite young at first and then you see what you went through – then you’re still living through what’s going on now with Covid. So it’s a very emotional feeling.”
“No, it’s offensive,” he says. “Proud is a funny word because it can be taken out of context. I am proud of what we have done. But what Hugo did was show in a very interesting, subtle way how complicated it all is.”
He hopes that visitors to the gallery in 50 years – who have never heard of him – might be intrigued: “Maybe one wants to explore that history a bit more deeply, because those are two very historic events that actually happened. In our single lifetime. Not just me, but our generation.”