He knows that a portrait doesn’t just reveal the model, but also the artist’s innermost secret.
It is rare in contemporary art to find a painter working so much with portraiture as Håkon Gullvåg does. He began gradually to explore the genre already while at the academy, and up until the 1990s regularly painted one or another portrait. The ‘90s witnessed an almost explosive development, where considerable focus was placed on this aspect of his artistic practice. In recent decades Gullvåg has completed many commissioned portrait as well as those initiated by himself, of friends and prominent Norwegians.
Gullvåg is perhaps most known for his controversial portraits of H. M. King Harald and H. M. Queen Sonja. Other notable portraits are of actors Ellen Horn and H. J. Carsten Smith, bishops Finn Wagle and Gunnar Stålset, editor Arve Solstad, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and author Lars Saabye Christensen.
Gullvåg is also concerned with figures from the past, in this connection it is worth mentioning his portraits of popes. His ambition is to paint all 265 of them.
Behind each portrait lies prodigious research. Eventually, after the artist acquires a nuanced impression of the persons he is to paint, he explores their different aspects in a pictorial series. By working serially, Gullvåg is freer in relation to each individual picture; he can take more chances and selects the best painting at the end. He always keeps some of them himself; hence the collection of portraits at Ekely has reached a formidable size. Gullvåg invariably makes at least one comparable, parallel work.
Over time a number of interesting self-portraits have been painted, along with those of family members. These however have a completely different character than his more official portraits and therefore will not be stressed in this text. In the family motifs, the person’s individuality is less emphasized; it melts into the picture, as an element in the overall motif. These persons help to tell a story and therefore are discussed more fully in the text “Paintings”.