De Gruy Portrait and the Harmony of Phi

 “If you knew Mike, You knew that he was a warrior, a warrior for the ocean.”

--James Cameron

By Jin Yang

The nautilus is the starting point of Mike and Mimi’s lives as underwater filmmakers, so it is appropriate for it to appear as a design element to build the painting around. Like the nautilus shell, their lives spiraled from their individual careers to their marriage, their film company, and their commitments to the ocean, family and community. The ever-expanding spiral embraces them beautifully as if they are still as enthusiastic and ambitious as they were in the beginning.

The spiral is also represented by a mathematical sequence known as The Fibonacci Equation: an expanding spiral created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in the Fibonacci tiling. This pattern is repeated throughout are natural world, such as in sunflowers or in the shape of our ears. This pattern is variously referred to as sacred geometry, divine proportion, mathematics of harmony and Phi: the Golden Ratio. The Golden ratio is a common compositional tool in art and design.  It uses the same mathematical equation as the nautilus to create balance and compositional harmony in a painting.  Therefore, Holli chose this as the major design element in the De Gruy portrait. The portrait depicts the moment this loving couple  are holding each other happily and peacefully in front of the ocean, which they devoted their lifetime passion to.

Mimi and Mike De Gruy, oil on canvas, 24x36

Mimi and Mike De Gruy, oil on canvas, 24x36

Holli uses a muted mild blue color palette for this painting. It successfully creates a feeling of freedom and vastness found in the ocean. Mike and Mimi are looking at different directions in the painting; following their sights, we can imagine the infinite world and dreams ahead of them. With the combination of the painting and their stories, I kind of just want this moment of love and serenity to stop and last there forever. All of the challenges, struggles and dangers are below the surface in the moment and all we can see is a couple, enjoying their lives full of love and expectations.

Their embrace unites them as collaborators in their profession but also speaks to their love as a couple and advocates for the ocean’s well-being. This moment in time prophetically stops there, but will last forever.  While this painting was nearly completed and still on the easel, Mike De Gruy was tragically killed in a helicopter crash while on assignment in Australia on February 4th, 2012.

It was a huge loss of a great teacher and an outstanding advocate for the ocean. Mike’s life was so richly lived that with his energy and power  are delivered to us through his works.  We will carry his ideas and enthusiasm into our lives as passionate human beings for the things we love.


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.