Painting with Light:The Nakamura Portrait and Gustav Klimt

Terry and I recently went to see "The Lady in Gold," the Simon Curtis film about a Gustav Klimt painting that was stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family in Vienna. I have always loved Klimt's work and was motivated to learn more about the history behind his paintings. Thank you to UCSB student Hannah Tucker, from the Writing About Art class, as she provides some observations about the process of painting the Nakamura portrait in the following article.- Holli Harmon

Aesthetics of Shuji Nakamura's Portrait

 Hannah Tucker, UCSB Student Intern, "Writing About Art",Global Studies Major from San Diego

Hannah Tucker, UCSB Student Intern, "Writing About Art",Global Studies Major from San Diego

By Hannah Tucker

In this portrait of Professor Shuji Nakamura, Holli Harmon employs style and content interdependently to create a visual representation of Nakamura’s Japanese heritage, particularly in the context of art and technology. Oil is her medium of choice in this elaborate layering of colors, symbols, and patterns. This decorative style is a technique that is highly characteristic of Japanese art as well as art from the French Art Nouveau movement. A major figure of this movement as well as Holli’s leading artistic inspiration for this portrait is Gustav Klimt, a late 19th c. symbolist painter from Austria. Klimt’s work is famous for its rigorous layering of symbols and decorative patterns. Like Harmon and other artists working in this modern age, Klimt painted during an era that was progressing rapidly towards higher technological sophistication. It was the same era as Edison's break through with the electric light bulb.

                          Shuji Nakamura, Nobel Prize Physics 2014, oil on canvas, 30x30

                        Shuji Nakamura, Nobel Prize Physics 2014, oil on canvas, 30x30

The ideological impact of this revolutionary period translates into the abstraction in Klimt’s work and the way it merges symbols of old and modern culture. A similar translation seems to be at work in Nakamura’s portrait. Harmon implements decorative elements to relay information about ancient and modern Japanese culture and its influence on Professor Nakamura’s success. While the colors and patterns in this portrait are striking for their aesthetic purposes alone, both elements also have much to offer content wise.  The use of gold again seems very Klimt inspired but the hues of blue and violet have much to do with Nakamura’s life’s work in LED innovation. He is most famous for inventing the blue LED. Also relating symbolically to his inventions are the patterns made up of the Gallium Nitride molecule floating in front of his kimono and in the background of the painting.   The other symbols, such as the fan he’s holding, the kimono and Astro Boy are symbolic of the Japanese warrior, a figure valued highly in both ancient and modern Japanese culture. There is much to tell about Nakamura’s life and heritage.  Without the visual elaborateness inspired by Klimt and other Japanese artists, much of the story would be lost.