….Or perhaps I should say astronauts who paint??
“Space Art” conjures up the image of kitsch, surreal, 70s Athena-style posters with giant images of Saturn looming over exotic rock formations. To be fair, there are many accomplished space artists whose work is firmly grounded in scientific research and anyway many people love a bit of fantasy and extravagant imagery. My problem with both genres is that they are competing with such extraordinary photographic images coming from the likes of Cassini and the Hubble Space Telescope. How about this for starters: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/10096872/Visions-of-the-universe-20-historic-images.html?frame=2580635. Or this? http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/nebula/pr2005012e/ Although absolutely authentic and 'real', these images are so far beyond what any of us have witnessed with the naked eye, they assume a status way beyond the merely documentary. Anyone who visited the recent “Visions of the Universe” exhibition in Greenwich will tell you that there was a visceral response in the room (including audible gasps) to the beauty of what we were all seeing – that's setting quite a high bar for artists to compete with.
So, what of the astronauts who have got closer than the rest of us to these amazing sights? Have any been inspired to try and convey their experiences through art? Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 12 mission and he has become a very sought after painter in the years since. The vast majority of his work faithfully recreates aspects of the Apollo missions, you can see them here: http://www.alanbeangallery.com/ His style is not quite photographic, but they are generally quite straightforward artworks, clearly documenting his experiences, some of which were not recorded on camera. The fact that he actually set foot on the moon lends a huge interest and authenticity to the paintings and maybe it is his way of answering the question that all astronauts dread at parties: “So…. what was it like?” He certainly finds himself in a pretty small category of 'painters who have walked on the moon' so won't be lying awake at night worrying about the competition.
My favourite astronaut, Michael Collins, is also a very keen artist but, in typically contrary fashion, chooses to paint almost exclusively rural scenes depicting landscapes, rivers and wildlife. http://www.astronautcentral.com/COLLINS/ORIG/index.html There is the occasional space-related work, but more often than not it is slightly humorous and tongue-in-cheek, for instance here, showing a fish taking off from the Gemini launch pad: http://www.astronautcentral.com/COLLINS/LTD/SnookLaunch.html
It is rather typical of Collins and probably why I find him so interesting, that, having had such an extraordinary life-experience, he has chosen not to dwell on it or be defined by it for the rest of his life. Yes, he has written books and turns up for the very occasional signing but, as I discovered when trying to contact him about A Quarter Of A Million Miles, he seems to be a man very keen to live in the present and not linger on his considerable past achievements. Heaven knows if there's a good or a bad way to react to flying to the moon, but I rather admire his low-key approach and his rejection of the cult of personality and celebrity. I really hope that at some point he finds time to explore my musical tribute to his writing but I realize I'm going to be competing with valuable painting time.