It was very exciting when SooJin Buzelli called me to make a portrait illustration for the Fall edition of ai5000. She gave me a choice of a few subjects, but given her acumen as an art director I left the decision to her, and was assigned Lars Rohde, the chief executive of the Danish pension fund ATP. His organization currently manages over 80 billion dollars of assets. SooJin asked me to combine him with some sort of suggestion of Danish or Scandinavian environment or culture.
His interview was different than most things I have illustrated over the years- it was extremely dry, factual and to the point, filled with figures, statistics and financial terminology (“...we use a core-satellite approach with an alpha-beta separation”.) In fact, his management style seems to be defined by his pragmatic, risk-adverse Scandinavian nature. The most visual things seemed to be that he felt that “100 year” financial storms were far more common and needed to be planned for,:"...we have experienced in that last 10-15 years, too many 100 year storms. It’s safe to say that our models (market as a whole) are obviously not as good as we thought they were. So what we’re trying also is to protect ourselves from the very adverse events that are not that likely. Some of the very unlikely events are those that are killing you. “
After combing the article for potential metaphors and visual hooks, I realized that I had a serious challenge on my hands, as the central core was risk aversion, a concept that has been illustrated in a million ways metaphorically. Furthermore, how does one give a picture a Scandinavian or Danish vibe? Dress him as Hamlet? Add the little mermaid? (I thought about that one- a lot)? I boiled it down to the fjords and the hundred year-storms. I began to see that if I illustrated the article the way it seemed to “want” to be done, it was going to look a lot different than the usual “ai5000” conceptual type of illustration. I called her to discuss my concern and she was totally supportive…so I went for it. I painted the final art fairly large, 24x30, over three days- a long time for me.