AND IT PUTS YOU IN A POSITION THAT MOST PAINTERS, ESPECIALLY ONES DOING SURREALIST STUFF, AREN'T OFTEN PUT IN. I was the kind of artist who liked to stay in the studio and send out these odd missives to the world, and now I'm out talking all the time. I enjoy it a lot. And often, I do now work with the people I've painted, and it challenges me to constantly live up to their standards. I was just in New York three weeks ago being arrested with Veterans for Peace in front of the White House. I have to do the things that I'm modeling.

HAVE THERE BEEN ANY COMMISSIONS WITHIN THE SERIES? With most of the (newer) paintings, I find out about people to paint from suggestion. It's rare that it comes from a person who becomes a subject; it's usually from someone who knows them or knows about them. I try to look into almost every suggestion I get like that, and I get hundreds of them. If it fits a niche I haven't filled with someone else, then I consider painting that person.

DO YOU HAVE SET CRITERIA? No. I get challenged sometimes: "Who are you — with this presumptuous name Americans Who Tell the Truth — to choose these people?" It's entirely subjective; these are my choices. If you don't like them, paint your own series. I can defend every choice I make for a variety of reasons. I mean, I've gotten so deeply into civil-rights struggles in this country from slavery up until the present, I could have painted 150 portraits around that issue. What's most distressing is all the people you have to leave out.

Nicholas Schroeder can be reached

"AMERICANS WHO TELL THE TRUTH" | paintings by Robert Shetterly | through January 31 | at Lewis Art Gallery, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland | 207.871.1700 | Reception January 7, 5-8 pm | Free

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