A Minnesotan will paint Gov. Mark Dayton's official portrait, returning the tradition to a local's paintbrush after two governors opted for artists who live elsewhere.
Dayton has picked Paul Oxborough, an Excelsior-based, internationally recognized portraitist, to depict the departing governor in a large-scale painting that will hang beside those of his predecessors at the State Capitol. By phone Friday, Oxborough said he hopes to capture Dayton in his own environment and reflect his humble nature.
"He's very soft-spoken, sort of a gentle man," he said. "That's got to come through."
Dayton's sons were familiar with Oxborough's portraits, which have been shown at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the British National Portrait Gallery. Upon meeting the governor, Oxborough, 53, said the pair "hit it off politically right away, and I knew we would," he said. But Oxborough knows he'll be dealing with "a reluctant sitter."
"Sitting for a portrait isn't something he's thrilled about," said Andrew Dayton, the governor's youngest son. But despite his feeling that the portrait is "something of a distraction," the governor has also acknowledged that it's a tradition.
"If he was going to do it," his son continued, "he wanted it to be someone with a strong Minnesota connection."
Most of the 38 portraits hanging in the Capitol have been painted by Minnesotans. But in 2003, former Governor Jesse Ventura selected Californian Stephen Cepello — his former professional wrestling tag-team partner, aka Steve Strong — for the task. In the resulting 3-by-4-foot work, Ventura wears a blue business suit, leaning one hand on Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker," and holding in the other a cigar.
The state's next governor, Tim Pawlenty, selected Bulgarian-born, Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin to capture his likeness. Standing in front of the Capitol, Pawlenty sports a red tie and a Mona Lisa smile.
In March, Minnesota Public Radio reported that Dayton considered the official portrait a "trivial" task. "If somebody in the future decides they want to do a portrait of me I will send them a Polaroid snapshot and they can do so," Dayton told an MPR reporter, adding that he had no plans "to go out and raise money to have a portrait of myself."
The price of the portrait will be $25,000, according to Caroline Burns, Dayton's press secretary, about the same as Pawlenty's. The cost will be covered by state funds, as it has for previous governors.
Oxborough studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Atelier LeSueur, a now-defunct Wayzata fine arts program steeped in 19th-century French tradition. Many of his Impressionist-style snapshots capture scenes he spotted while traveling with his wife, who works for Delta Air Lines. But he's best known for his portraits.
This is the first time he'll paint a politician: "I don't have a long list of governors' portraits behind me," he said, laughing.
But Oxborough has captured familiar faces before.
In 2006, his portrait of Chuck Close, himself a famous portraitist, was chosen as a finalist for the first Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition sponsored by the National Portrait Gallery. In 2009, his spotlight-soaked rendering of Stef Alexander, the rapper from Doomtree better known as P.O.S, was one of 51 accepted in the British Portrait Awards.
Fun fact: P.O.S references Oxborough's daughter Allegra in his song "Optimist." "I made this beat for Allegra Oxborough," he raps. "She taught me how to do the thing with the cups."
For years, Oxborough's career has tilted toward the East Coast. He has been represented by East Coast galleries, including Cavalier Galleries in New York. But he "stayed here to raise a family," he said, to send his four children, now grown, to Minnesota's strong schools. He mentioned the Dayton sons' campaign to "Keep the North Cold," a slogan at their Askov Finlayson company.
"I don't think I like the cold that much, specifically," Oxborough said. "But I love Minnesota."