He has gone to the Supreme Court to force the gallery to add a portrait of President Trump to its collection of images of people of remarkable character and achievement. The gallery has displayed artwork from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign since 2009.
“I’m the wrong person to do that to because I will stand by what I believe,” Mr. Raven told The Washington Times. “I will not be kicked around like this. I became a citizen, and I took an oath.”
About the same time, he completed an 8-by-16-foot painting of candidate Donald Trump titled “Unafraid and Unashamed,” which depicts the president’s face beside a bald eagle swooping in and picking up a falling American flag.
“As a conservative, as a Christian, being an artist is very difficult. It’s a liberally controlled system,” Mr. Raven said of the art world. “I thought supporting this guy might be death to my art career.”
He was encouraged to execute his vision by his young daughter, who told him Mr. Trump could hang it someday in the Oval Office.
“Out of the mouths of babes,” he said of the prediction.
Mr. Raven took the painting on the campaign trail across the country and managed to have it displayed at art shows in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia.
He said the artwork helped bridge a political divide during protests at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where it facilitated dialogue between supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders and supporters of Mr. Trump. The two sides were able to discuss their opposing viewpoints productively, he said, based on their mutual respect for art.
After Mr. Trump won the election, Mr. Raven got the idea to donate his painting to the National Portrait Gallery. People who had seen the artwork from New York to Iowa to California said the piece should be in the Smithsonian.
Mr. Raven did a little research and discovered that the National Portrait Gallery acquired Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster, which became the iconic image of the 44th president’s 2008 campaign, in January 2009.
The canvas print now sits in storage at his studio.
“I am so infuriated with the haters,” Mr. Raven said. “My journey as a patriot and a citizen has been deepened as hard as this journey has been.”
A spokesperson from the National Portrait Gallery told The Washington Times that the institution does not comment on pending litigation.
Mr. Raven is hopeful that the high court will take his case because he believes it presents a unique question about what exactly the Smithsonian Institution is — a government or private entity — and how that clashes with a citizen’s free speech rights.
He has petitioned the solicitor general’s office, asking for the government’s top lawyer to side with him in the dispute against the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.