Filter articles by:
Date published
Article keywords
Article type

Portrait unveiled to farewell former Chancellor Professor Tom Calma AO

Reshma Jayesh

9 May 2024: The University of Canberra recently farewelled our Chancellor of over 10 years, Professor Tom Calma AO, at a celebration with family, close friends, and colleagues at the National Arboretum in Canberra where his official portrait, commissioned by the University, was unveiled.

Photo of the portrait with the artist and the subject.

The portrait acknowledges and immortalises Professor Calma’s exceptional leadership and contributions to the University and the wider community.

Mr Vincent Fantauzzo – one of Australia’s most prominent artists – provided a behind-the-scenes take on how the portrait came to life.

Mr Fantauzzo vividly remembers feeling an instant connection with the former Chancellor when he first met him at an Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) event earlier in 2023. Seeing his incredible energy and big, calm smile, Mr Fantauzzo said he “hoped to one day paint this guy”.

So, a couple of months later, when Mr Fantauzzo received a call from the University asking if he would be interested in producing Professor Calma’s official portrait, he was thrilled. He describes the feeling as equal to winning an art prize. After a few lunch and coffee meetings to learn more about Professor Calma, and many photographs, films and sketches later, Mr Fantauzzo started putting paint to canvas.

Professor Calma had complete trust in Mr Fantauzzo, and said, “You paint me the way you see me, and I don't want to see any pictures. I don't want to know about it. I just want you to interpret me, through your experience.”

When the portrait was unveiled, it was the first time Professor Calma had seen it, which was quite nerve-wracking for Mr Fantauzzo.

Mr Fantauzzo shared that he uses a different technique for each of his artworks. When describing the uniqueness of Professor Calma’s portrait, he said, “Up close it would almost look like parts of the painting had sprayed paint or flipped paint on them with a lot of dots, and that's because I was dabbing the painting with old brushes. I enjoyed working on this portrait as I was looking at a great face every day, and I kind of prolonged the process a little and took my time, which I think made the difference.”

Talking about how art plays a role in capturing the essence of leaders like Professor Calma, Mr Fantauzzo explained that a portrait is very considered.

Photo of the portrait

“As an artist, you dwell over their personal life, and you think about their history. For example, when Tom talks about his family, career or passion for Indigenous culture, there's a twinkle in his eye and a movement in his mouth. They were the things that I was thinking about when I was painting.

“Portraits also convey the energy and presence of the person, so, when you're standing in front of a portrait, it portrays their energy,” he said.

Professor Tom Calma AO was only the second Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in any Australian University to hold the position of Chancellor. But during his tenure he wore many hats – he was the Senior Australian of the Year in 2023, a fierce advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, one of the key architects for the Voice to Parliament Referendum in 2023, and a Fellow of three of the five Learned Academies for Humanities, Social Sciences and Science.

“I am humbled by the love, support, dedication and passion that I have witnessed within the UC community. It was an honour and privilege to serve this institution, its staff, students, alumni and partners over the years.

Professor Tom Calma AO addressing the guests

“Together, we achieved remarkable milestones. This is our collective legacy and I know that the University of Canberra will continue to thrive and uphold its commitment to education, research and serving the Canberra community that we call home, for years to come.”

On the subject of legacy, Mr Fantauzzo added, “You know, I've done so many portraits and every once in a while, you get lucky enough to find a really true friend, someone that you want to be a part of your life forever. Tom is definitely one of those people – he's just so special. His portrait is one of my favourites.”

Mr Fantauzzo attended Professor Calma’s farewell event with his wife, and watched nervously – not just Professor Calma, but also his close friends and family – as the portrait was unveiled. He described witnessing one of the most honest and emotional reactions for his painting. “And it was a very proud moment,” he said.

Note: The official portrait is the property of the University of Canberra. © 2024 Vincent Fantauzzo. All Rights Reserved.