News & Politics

A Political Journalist’s Side Gig as an Artist Takes Off

Pablo Manríquez's paintings have won powerful fans.

Photograph of Manríquez by Evy Mages

In a cramped but colorful basement in a rowhouse near Mount Vernon Square, a cluster of journalists and other local professionals recently met for a typical DC activity—chatting about current affairs—and one much less common among local office workers: making art. They had gathered in the painting studio of Pablo Manríquez, a longtime Capitol Hill reporter who currently writes for Vanity Fair. Manríquez has hosted many of these art sessions, which one attendee, consultant Bayly Hassell, described as being “like a bohemian salon.”

At the most recent event, Manríquez worked on a portrait of speaker of the House Mike Johnson, and the walls were adorned with more of his paintings, including ones of Mitch McConnell and John Fetterman. But political subjects aren’t required: The point is just to encourage the journalists and policy wonks in Manríquez’s life to pick up a brush. When people show up for the first time, “I start painting and then they feel more comfortable doing it, too,” he says. “Once they ruin their first set of clothes with the paints, they usually designate that as their oil-painting outfit.”

Manríquez himself is relatively new to the hobby, having come to it unexpectedly. Three years ago, a misdelivered package from a paint-supply service showed up at his door with no name or address. Inside were a canvas and paint. Eventually, he decided to have a party in order to get rid of it, with guests each adding a couple brushstrokes to the canvas. He put the piece on his wall, and a friend asked if it was for sale. “That was like a sign,” Manríquez says. “I thought, ‘I wonder how much it would cost to buy another canvas?’ ”

Ever since, Manríquez has spent his free time on art. To develop his skills, he started painting the politicians he sees at work, starting with McConnell. These quickie congressional likenesses soon found a market: Manríquez says he’s now sold more than a hundred of them. Some he hawks at farmers markets, while others he sells online. Hill staffers like to buy them as gifts. A portrait of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dog, Deco, has even found its way to her office. He’s also painted more than a dozen portraits of political reporters—Ali Vitali, Manu Raju—that hang in the area of the Capitol used by Senate journalists.

At this year’s State of the Union address, Manríquez took on another new challenge: From a balcony overlooking Statuary Hall in the Capitol, he live-painted the scene as people headed to the President’s speech. He was excited to be covering the event in this new (yet very old) way, but “I was conscious of people walking by,” he says. “People wear their Sunday best to the address, and I didn’t want paint to ruin their nice clothes.”

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow