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Artwork

Artwork

Astronautics owes much of its existence to the arts. On the one hand, literary works by authors such as Jules Verne (1828-1905) were directly responsible for inspiring the founders of modern spaceflight; on the other hand, artists such as Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986)* made spaceflight seem possible. When Bonestell's space art was first published in the 1940s and early 1950s, spaceflight to most people still belonged in the realm of comic books and pulp fiction. Bonestell, working with such great space scientists as Wernher von Braun, depicted space travel with such vivid reality that it suddenly no longer seemed so fantastic. Emerging as it did when the United States was first taking an interest in astronautics, these paintings went a long way toward encouraging both public and government support.

Space Art Comes of Age

Since Bonestell's time, there have been many other artists who have specialized in space art, though even in the early twenty-first century there are probably fewer than a hundred who work at it full-time. Some have been able to develop specialties within the field. Robert McCall and Pat Rawlings, for example, devote themselves to rendering spacecraft, while others, such as Michael Carroll and Ron Miller, concentrate on astronomical scenes, including views of the surface of Mars* or the moons of Saturn. Some artists are interested in how we are going to explore space, while others are more interested in what we are going to find once we get there.

Although most space artists have a background in art, either as gallery artists or commercial artists, there are some notable exceptions. William K. Hartmann (b. 1939), for example, is a professional astronomer who happens to also be an excellent painter. He is able to combine his artistic talent with his expert knowledge of astronomy. Only a very few space artists have ever flown in space. Alexei Leonov, a Russian cosmonaut who was also the first man to walk in space, is a very fine painter who took drawing supplies with him into orbit. Vladimir Dzhanibekov is another cosmonaut who has translated his experiences in space onto canvas. Of the American astronauts, only one has had a serious interest in art. Alan Bean, who walked on the Moon in 1969, has devoted himself since retiring from the astronaut corps to painting and has become extraordinarily successful depicting scenes from his experiences in the Apollo program.

Beyond Aesthetics

The artists who specialize in astronomical scenes perform a very valuable service. In one sense, they are like the artists who re-create dinosaurs. By taking astronomical information and combining this with their knowledge of geology, meteorology , and other sciences, as well as their expertise in light, shadow, perspective, and color, they can create a realistic landscape of some other world. Most often these are places that have never been visited by human beings or unmanned probes. In other instances, an orbiter or a spacecraft on a flyby mission may have already taken photographs of a moon or planet. In this case, the artist can use these photos to create an impression of what it might look like to stand on the surface. Since it can be very difficult to interpret orbital photoswhich look down on their subjectspaintings like these are very useful in helping to understand what the features actually look like.

Into the Twenty-First Century

Until recently, most space artists worked in the same traditional materials, such as oil paint, acrylics, and watercolors, as other artists and illustrators. Many space artists now also use the computer to either enhance their traditionally rendered work or to generate artwork from scratch. Don Davis (b. 1952)*, one of the twenty-first century's best astronomical artists, no longer works with brushes at all, choosing instead to work exclusively on a computer. There are advantages, both technically and aesthetically, to both methods but it is very unlikely that the computer will ever entirely replace traditional tools. It is the wise artist, however, who is at least familiar with computer techniques.

An International Genre

There are space artists, both professional and amateur and both women and men, working in almost every nation. Indeed, one of the first great artists to specialize in the field, and who helped create it, was a French artist named Lucien Rudaux (1874-1947), who created beautiful space paintings in the 1920s and 1930s. Rudaux set a standard not exceeded until Bonestell published his first space art in the 1940s. Ludek Pešek (1919-1999), a Czechoslovakian expatriate who lived in Switzerland, was probably the best and most influential space artist to follow Bonestell. Pešek illustrated a dozen books with paintings of the planets that looked so natural and realistic it seemed as though they must have been done on location. David A. Hardy (b. 1936) of Great Britain is as adept at depicting spacecraft as he is landscapes of other worlds.

Notable women artists include Pamela Lee, who is highly regarded for her meticulously rendered depictions of astronauts at work, and MariLynn Flynn, who creates planetary landscapes in the tradition of Bonestell and Pešek. The membership roster of the International Association of Astronomical Artists, an organization of space artists, includes people from Germany, Armenia, Sweden, Japan, Russia, Canada, Belgium, and many other countries, all united by their mutual interest in space travel, astronomy, and art.

see also Bonestell, Chesley (volume 4); Literature (volume 1); Mccall, Robert (volume 1); Rawlings, Pat (volume 4); Verne, Jules (volume 1); von Braun, Wernher (volume 3).

Ron Miller

Bibliography

Di Fate, Vincent. Infinite Worlds. New York: Penguin Studio, 1997.

Hardy, David A. Visions of Space. Limpsfield, UK: Paper Tiger, 1989.

Launius, Roger D., and Bertram Ulrich. NASA and the Exploration of Space. New York:Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998.

*The artwork in this article is courtesy of Bonestell Space Art.

*Go to Volume 4's article on Terraforming to see Michael Carroll's rendering of a "Blue Mars."

*Don Davis's artwork can be seen in the Volume 2 article "Close Encounters" and Volume 4's article on "Impacts."

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artwork

art·work / ˈärtˌwərk/ • n. illustrations, photographs, or other nontextual material prepared for inclusion in a publication. ∎  paintings, drawings, or other artistic works: a collection of artwork from tribal cultures| each artwork is reproduced in color on a full page.

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artwork

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