After being delayed by the pandemic, Dr. Marlene Tromp’s presidential portrait was finally revealed Nov. 3 at 5 pm in the Center for the Visual Arts.
In 2019, a call was sent out for artists to apply to create the presidential portrait. Among the three applicants for the portrait, Erin Cunningham, adjunct instructor and Boise State alum, was chosen to do the portrait.
University art curator Fonda Portales told the Arbiter that the committee was energized by Erin’s passion and the research and vision she brought to the interview, and they felt that she was the best artist for completing such a historic portrait on campus.
The portrait is an oil on panel which is a historic convention for portraiture, but Cunningham and Tromp didn’t want the portrait to be conventional.
“There is a conventional language that’s used for portraits of administrators in higher ed,” Cunningham said. ”I wanted to work against some of those conventions [because Tromp] is just so generous and caring and thoughtful in everything that she does… and says.”
According to Cunningham, Tromp said that in her portrait, she didn’t want to be “locked away.”
“The choices I made in the painting reinforce [the denial] of those standardized images … by putting her into an outdoor space by putting the emphasis on her interaction with the viewer, so it’s very direct. It’s very frontal.” Cunningham said.
Cunningham worked with a combination of images and photographs to capture Tromp’s likeness. Cunningham and Tromp had conversations to help establish the “demeanor and a variety of expressions,” which is crucial to the portrait-making process.
Although Cunningham was tasked with making a human likeness, she couldn’t help but let her own artistic concentrations come through. Cunningham is particularly interested in the land of Idaho. She said there’s a kind of “meticulousness” to both the land and her artistic perception of it, and that people often misunderstand the land.
“They think [the landscape] is beige,” Cunningham said. “They think it’s not important or not interesting, but it really is … Boise is a point of convergence. Boise State is also a place where … different experiences come together and these unique students with different backgrounds come and so I felt there was unity there.”
Cunningham wanted to implicitly include this in the portrait with the blue-green sagebrush and yellow flowers with a gleaming blue sky featured in the background.
Cunningham expressed how the land was also important to Tromp. They both spent time away from this area or similar areas and then returned to it because of a “longing” for the land.
The importance of the portrait goes beyond its execution and even its subject. Cunningham also mentioned the importance of the portrait to the art department, as a whole. She said that it is important for people to see “the quality of artists … being produced by this department.”
“I am both a product of this department and somebody who works within it,” Cunningham said. “I am so grateful for the experience to have gotten to work with [Tromp] and to represent this department.”