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Katherine Luna (2006)

I once made a painting of a similar nature, but that painting was tragically lost. The painting dealt with means of knowing oneself. Five years after the loss of my high-school thesis painting, I found myself at the Lorentz Institute for Theoretical Physics.

During one daily coffee break in mid-December, when we were all seated around a table drinking our coffee or tea as usual, Carlo Beenakker, with his arms raised, recounted to us his dream of a huge mural to be painted in a niche of the coffee room, where the walls curve around to give way to a private place of contemplation. Experimentalists buy machines to help them carry out their projects, Carlo said. Why then can't we theorists build an environment to help us better do our job, which is to think, he argued.

During the annual Winter Holiday lunch, Carlo approached me, apparently having found out about my art background, to ask whether I would be willing to make a mural for what is now known as the inspiration corner. With my Fulbright grant period almost over in a few months, no time remained for me to undertake such a massive project, which would undoubtedly deter me from my intended purpose of physics research.

Carlo, being the masterful salesman, quickly agreed that a mural probably was not the best way to go, as the building is temporary. Do a painting, he suggested, and he listed various arguments on its behalf such as being portable, smaller in size, and stating the fact that many artists do paintings quickly. Though knowing from experience that a painting suitable for the department would probably take me three weeks of non-stop painting to complete, I groaned and sighed being hesitant to undertake the project. But in that moment, I could not resist the art challenge before me nor the urge to help someone realize such a passionately expressed dream. I took a deep breath, resigned to my fate, and agreed to do the project.

Carlo, knowing that I have a website where some of my art is posted, came directly to my office after the lunch to scroll through the various pieces. Apparently, knowing that the fish was hooked, he was not going to let me wiggle off. He stopped to admire a photograph of a painting which was lost five years ago. He particularly liked how the two hands on the bottom corners of the painting made him feel like his own hands could be there. He wanted a similar painting.

You chose wisely, I thought to myself, as I felt that only my lost thesis piece was appropriate for further development and expression. Now I was going to, and wanted to, revisit themes in my thesis painting again. The process to finalize the painting's themes was a curious exercise. While I pondered on how to express my thoughts on canvas, the process caused me to think and reflect on my growth as a person and how I have grown even further as a result of my experiences here. My new painting is modified and enhanced by experiences over the past five years, including my wonderful experiences here at Leiden, where I was allowed to work with wonderful professors such as my advisor Jan Zaanen. These themes are reflected in this painting and I thank the Lorentz Institute for giving me this opportunity.

I would like to thank Carlo Beenakker for all his support throughout the process, from acquiring an easel to giving me an ideal studio within the physics department, and most importantly providing the impetus to create the painting. Much thanks goes to Jan Zaanen and Bart Leurs, who allowed me slightly more time off from research, particularly during my last month at the Lorentz Institute to finish the painting. Bart Leurs also will be varnishing the painting after my departure from the Lorentz Institute. Thomas Ludwig provided his superb driving skills through narrow roads and one way streets in the center of Leiden, so that I could pick out a frame for the painting. In addition, I would like to thank all those who visited my studio or inquired about the progress of my work.

I have come to feel at home in Leiden's physics department and each day I looked forward to being among friends. I thank Jan Zaanen and the department for allowing me to spend a year with such a wonderful community of physicists. Art and science are not as disparate as they may seem, and many physicists of the past partook in creative endeavors, from Einstein with his violin to Feynman with his art. I am glad that I, as a physicist, was able to continue this tradition at the Lorentz Institute.

Katherine Luna, May 2006