CARTHAGE, Mo. — Like many Southwest Missouri residents, artist Andy Thomas spent Sunday night watching the Kansas City Chiefs play a primetime football game — unaware that his phone was blowing up with missed calls and text messages.
Because he'd been working and watching the game, he didn't watch an episode of "60 Minutes" that featured Lesley Stahl's interview with President Donald Trump. A segment of that interview featured a wall of the White House, where a copy of Thomas' painting "The Republican Club" was hanging.
Since Sunday night, Thomas' work has been the topic of national conversation. On Monday, he did interviews with The Washington Post, Time, BBC, the Guardian and a phone interview with NBC News. That afternoon, he was in St. Louis to record an interview with CNN, and said he has arrangements for a segment on "Fox and Friends" early Tuesday morning.
"There have been dozens of phone calls, and we can't answer them all," Thomas said. "But give it 24 hours, I'll be old news. People will forget all about me."
"The Republican Club" features portrayals of many Republican presidents enjoying drinks in a club. Trump sits alongside Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, both Bush presidents, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
A print of the painting was given to Trump by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Before the painting was shown on "60 Minutes," Thomas said Trump called him to tell him how much he liked the work and how he was portrayed.
Reaction from others hasn't been so kind. The sight of the painting spread widely across the internet from personalities, including Jake Tapper and George Takei, the latter of whom alleged in a tweet Monday that the "horrific piece" was commissioned by Trump, and encouraged his followers to participate in a caption contest.
Trump had this horrific piece commissioned. It’s a fantasy painting of GOP presidents hanging out with him. I feel it’s in need of a caption. Internet, do your thing. pic.twitter.com/4yjdkC2wOt— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) October 15, 2018
Just went down the Andy Thomas rabbit hole... https://t.co/cfrLQFEcJq— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 15, 2018
Takei's tweet is inaccurate: Thomas has been painting presidents at tables for years, including Republicans and Democrats, and is no stranger to criticism. A similar version called "The Democratic Club" features former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Harry S Truman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter in similar poses at the same club.
The two latest versions have one figure in common: An out of focus woman approaching the table. Thomas said in June that the woman represents how a woman will eventually be elected president.
Thomas said reactions to his art in this large viral audience are out of his hands, so he's trying to simply enjoy the moment. He's had a few laughs over seeing some creatively Photoshopped versions of his painting.
"The surest way to unhappiness is to try and control all the reactions," Thomas said. "People are going to react differently. But it's amazing how ugly people can be when they are anonymous."
The reaction also hasn't given any reason for Thomas to change his art. Though his presidential portraits have earned him a reputation, Thomas said that he'll continue to focus on the Western scenes that compose about 90 percent of his work.
Once the reaction dies down, Thomas said, he hopes people remember one key fact about "The Republican Club": It's supposed to be a feel-good painting.
"In an original painting I had Nixon in a paranoid pose, but I realized that was a cheap shot, because paranoia was a real problem that tortured him all of his life, and it was cruel to even hint at it," Thomas said. "So I won't put anything that isn't pleasant in these paintings.
"At some point, I may combine Republicans and Democrats in the same painting, although it would probably be a dog selling. Politics are vicious, but they don't affect our actual lives that much. We still get up and go to work, so we can smile and get along with people."