Tears have the ability to nurse the wounds of tragedy and art has the power to shed light on the beauty of life. Following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven others in the helicopter crash which took place in Calabasas California, Lerthon Theuma and Joan Heo, of New York, created a portrait of Kobe and Gianna in their honor.
The two posted the portrait online two days after the devastating news and the positive reactions to the art took on a life of its own. Taking it a step further, Theuma and Heo printed the portrait and posted it in between the street signs of 8th avenue and West 24th street. “It just clicked. Why don’t we go to 8th and 24th for the memorial?” explained Theuma. The intersection of 8th and West 24th holds a special significance due to 8 and 24 being Kobe Bryant’s jersey numbers. “A simple thing can be so impactful,” said Theuma.
The portrait of Kobe and Gianna was an intricate process. “It was made on Procreate on iPad pro. It usually takes eight weeks for a two person portrait, but we turned it around in three days,” said Heo. Theuma and Heo wanted to make sure the portrait was complete as soon as possible following the incident. The color choices were a nod to the Lakers gold and purple. There is a gold and purple gradient halo behind Gianna and Kobe. “We had a back and forth on whether we should have letters and their names. We decided on the halo,” Heo said.
While the portrait was on display, the reactions like the ones initially online were strong. Although the portrait is no longer up, Heo and Theuma created a video of a small case study honoring Kobe Bryant and showcasing the reactions to the portrait on the intersection. At the end of the video all nine names of the victims were presented, showing that their lives should be honored just as Kobe and Gianna’s were. The portrait received more than 1.7 million online impressions. “It was surreal. We didn’t expect it to blow up the way it did,” said Heo. “It was nice to see people come together with good hearts,” Theuma expressed.
It was a first for Heo and Theuma to create a project out of tragedy but this is an experience they will remember. The impact of this art has brought people together and connected them during a time of loss.