Friday September 16th, 2011, was a very exciting day for me. That afternoon was the reveal of Professor Rauli Svento's portrait, which was my very first commissioned official portrait. Or how I slipped up and described it to the Dean of the Business School as 'my first official commissioned portrait', which sounds like it was my very first commission, officially, ever. To makes things clear: it is an official, public portrait of Professor Rauli Svento, commissioned to celebrate his 60th birthday and his distinguished career at Oulu University (and he's not done yet!). It will hang in the Oulu Business School (Oulu University Linnanmaa campus, here is a link to the university posting about the event).
Professor Rauli Svento has worn many hats during his career at Oulu University: researcher, professor, Dean of Economics and Business Administration and Vice-President of Oulu University. He played a central role in building the Business School program from the ground up and as a co-creator of the Matti Ahtisaari Institute.
Professor Rauli Svento was a brilliant sitter to paint, and that superlative works in two ways: he has a very amiable and easygoing character that brought a calm focus to the painting process, and his intelligence and perceptive nature made for very interesting topics of conversation. It's not every day that I get the chance to pick the brain of a top-notch economist, what with all the global market explosions going on these days.
The portrait was composed in shades of blue, blue being Professor Rauli Svento's suggestion and preference. I see it as a direct challenge to all those brown and muddy-grey toned portraits that can be found lurking the halls of universities and hospitals, remnants of a pseudo-cubism episode of portraiture here in Finland that just won't die.
The portrait was completed over a course of six sittings in the spring of this year. I tried to keep the light consistent by scheduling each sitting for the same time in the mid-morning. The painting was started in semi-defuse sunlight conditions, so I was thrown off one morning, near the completion of the portrait, when the sun came out from behind the clouds and light popped through two windows at once. It was a surprise (I had forgotten how spring sunlight came in the room, due to the long, miserably dark winter) and I was excited to put down new colors and highlights, but I had to stop and control the impulse to capture that specific moment of light because it would have upset the balance of the composition. Plus, people would probably have wondered at the strange light situation and ignored the subject.
Six sittings seemed like a lot of time (average 2-3 hours each) when I initially scheduled it, but it was just sufficient for painting the face. I used photographs taken at a few sessions (under different weather conditions) as references for modelling the suit, tie and backdrop in between sittings. As I couldn't step back from the portrait during the sittings (I still need a studio, surprise!), I also referred to the photographs to correct any blunders in the drawing/likeness.