To some, art and science are opposed to one another. Art is aesthetics, expression, and intuition, while science is all cold, hard, rational thought. But that’s a simplistic understanding. They’re both quintessential human endeavours, and they’re both part of the human spirit.
Some at NASA have always understood this, and there’s actually an interesting, collaborative history between NASA and the art world, that reaches back several decades. Not the kind of art that you see hanging in elite galleries in the world’s large cities, but the kind of art that documents achievements in space exploration, and that helps us envision what our future could be.
Back in 1962, when NASA was 4 years old, NASA administrator James Webb put the wheels in motion for a collaboration between NASA and American artists. Artist Bruce Stevenson had been commissioned to produce a portrait of Alan Shepard. Shepard, of course, was the first American in space. He piloted the first Project Mercury flight, MR-3, in 1961. When Webb saw it, he got a bright idea.
When Stevenson brought is portrait of Shepard to NASA headquarters, James Webb thought that Stevenson wanted to paint portraits of all seven Mercury astronauts. But Webb thought a group portrait would be even better. The group portrait was never produced, but it got Webb thinking. In a memo, he said “…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events” of the American space program.
That set in motion a framework that exists to this day. Beyond just portraits, Webb wanted artists to produce paintings that would convey the excitement around the entire endeavour of space flight, and what the deeper meaning behind it might be. He wanted artists to capture all of the excitement around the preparation and countdown for launches, and activities in space.
That’s when the NASA collaboration with artists began. A young artist named James Dean was assigned to the program, and he took a page out of the Air Force’s book, which established its own art program in 1954.
There’s a whole cast of characters involved, each one contributing to the success of the program. One such person was John Walker, Director of the National Gallery. He was enthusiastic, saying in a talk in 1965 that “the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind.” History has certainly proven those words to be true.
Walker went on to say that it was the artists’ job “…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race.”
And that’s what they did. Artists like Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Peter Hurd, Annie Liebowitz, Robert Rauschenberg, and others, all took part in the program.
In the 1970’s, thinkers like Gerard K. O’Neill began to formulate ideas of what human colonies in space might look like. NASA held a series of conferences where these ideas were shared and explored. Artists Rick Guidice and Don Davis created many paintings and illustrations of what colony designs like Bernal Spheres, Double Cylinders, and Toroidal Colonies might look like.
NASA continues to work with artists, though the nature of the relationship has changed over the decades. Artists are often used to flesh out new discoveries when images are not available. Cassini’s so-called Grand Finale, when it will orbit between Saturn and its rings 22 times before crashing into the planet, was conceptualized by an unnamed artist.
The recent discovery of the exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system was huge news. It still is. But TRAPPIST-1 is over 40 light years away, and NASA relied on artists to bring the discovery to life. This illustration was widely used to help us understand what planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 Red Dwarf might look like.
NASA now has quite a history of relying on art to convey what words can’t do. Space colonies, distant solar systems, and spacecraft ending their missions on other worlds, have all relied on the work of artists. But if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be the 1981 water color by artist Henry Casselli. It makes you wonder what it’s like for an individual to take part in these species-defining endeavours. Just one person, sitting, contemplating, and preparing.
OTTAWA, CANADA – A small Canadian community seems an unlikely spot for an artist now working with Mars One (those people plotting a one-way trip to Mars) and asteroid mining concept company Deep Space Industries. But that’s how Bryan Versteeg got his start in life and — despite his remoteness — found space inspiration from an iconic Canadian technology.
“In a small, isolated Canadian community, I wasn’t really exposed to space exploration at all. I had no one around me who was in the industry. The only thing I had that talked to me about Canadians in space … was the Canadarm,” said Versteeg in a speech Nov. 15.
“So growing up as a kid I’d see this Canadian flag prominently featured on one of the most incredible industrial pieces of machinery put into space,” he added, saying one of his goals now is to “stick the Canadian flag where I can.” Flashing a picture of a futuristic Mars base sporting a flag, he said, “Why not? If this place is going to be built by anyone, it’s built by Canadians.”
Today, Versteeg does artistic work for Deep Space Industries as well as Mars One, work that initially first reached the space community because he put information out on his website and people who were interested in colonization came to him to share ideas, he said.
“I imagine concepts, and I work with people who are trying to develop concepts and show concepts. Although most of the work is self-directed, I worked on 40 projects in the past two years,” he said.
In a sense, he feels that Mars is even easier to communicate with than the far North a few decades ago. When he was living in Inuvik (in Canada’s Northwest Territories) in the 1980s, it would take 2.5 weeks to get a reply from a letter, he said.
Versteeg delivered his remarks at the Canadian Space Society’s annual summit, held this year (Nov. 14 to 15) in Ottawa, Canada.
The interior of Russian space station Mir was not known for its pizazz — US astronaut Jerry Linenger called it “as drab as a Moscow winter” — and it ended up being crowded and cluttered with all sorts of unused equipment and old experiments. So, Mir was an unlikely place for an art exhibit … and perhaps why it was called an “art intervention” by one of the artists.
In the video above you can see a green “creature” floating freely in the Mir space station, — all angles and corners — gently brushing against spacesuits stashed in a corner. The video then shows it pivoting in the air, flashing red and green with people occasionally batting at it.
While the Russians were able to accept the angular sculpture, there were precautions to ensure that the paint would not produce toxic out-gasses or otherwise harm the astronauts, Woods added, saying the sculpture was even dunked in an alcohol solution prior to launch to remove any germs.
Then there was an entire art exhibition on station in 1995, called Ars Ad Astra. From 171 works submitted from all over the world, 20 were chosen for a ride into orbit with Thomas Reiter, a German astronaut. The crew then selected one to keep on display on the station, sending the rest of them back to Earth for exhibitions all over Europe.
The winner was “When Dreams Are Born”, an artwork from the United States’ Elisabeth Caroll Smith showing two children playing near a reflection of the moon in the water.
Information about the two art exhibits, which were co-ordinated by the Swiss O.U.R.S. Project, was displayed at the Canadian Space Society annual summit in Ottawa, Canada Nov. 14 to 15.
The International Space Station has also played host to several art projects, including this light show, a music video by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and dinosaur crafting from NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, among others.
Space fans in Los Angeles — and we know, given Mars Curiosity is controlled at the nearby NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that there are lots of you — here’s a neat-looking art show for you to check out in the next month.
SPACE! The Gallery Show will open at Gallery 1988: West today with special NASA guest Bobak Ferdowsi, a systems engineer at JPL who is best known as “Mohawk Guy” — that person with the great haircut being shown on television screens worldwide during the Curiosity landing.
“You guys, I am thrilled to finally share this with you,” wrote organizer Mike Mitchell on his blog. “It’s the first time I’ve ever curated a show, and it’s a theme that I’m very passionate about. Take a gander at the artist list, get yourself pumped up and come to the show. It’s going to be a stellar time.”
The event runs today through Saturday, July 20, closing on the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. More information is available on the event’s Facebook page and the gallery’s website.
For over 50 years, award-winning space and astronomy artist David A. Hardy has taken us to places we could only dream of visiting. His career started before the first planetary probes blasted off from Earth to travel to destinations in our solar system and before space telescopes viewed distant places in our Universe. It is striking to view his early work and to see how accurately he depicted distant vistas and landscapes, and surely, his paintings of orbiting space stations and bases on the Moon and Mars have inspired generations of hopeful space travelers.
Hardy published his first work in 1952 when he was just 15. He has since illustrated and produced covers for dozens of science and science fiction books and magazines. He has written and illustrated his own books and has worked with astronomy and space legends like Patrick Moore, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Wernher von Braun, and Isaac Asimov. His work has been exhibited around the world, including at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. which houses two of his paintings.
Universe Today is proud to announce that Hardy has helped us update the banner at the top of our website (originally designed by Christopher Sisk) to make it more astronomically accurate.
Hardy has also recently debuted his own new website where visitors can peruse and learn more about his work, and buy prints and other items.
We had the chance to talk with Hardy about his enduring space art and career:
Universe Today: When you first started your space art, there weren’t images from Voyager, Cassini, Hubble, etc. to give you ideas for planetary surfaces and colored space views. What was your inspiration?
David Hardy: I got to look through a telescope when I was about 16. You only have to see the long shadows creeping across a lunar crater to know that this is a world. But I also found the book ‘The Conquest of Space‘ in my local library, and Chesley Bonestell’s photographic paintings of the Moon and planets just blew me away! I knew that I wanted to produce pictures that would show people what it’s really like out there — not just as rather blurry discs of light through a telescope.
UT: And now that we have such spacecraft sending back amazing images, how has that changed your art, or how have the space images inspired you?
Hardy: I was lucky to start when I did, because in 1957 we had Sputnik, and then the exploration of space really started. We started getting photos of the Earth from space, and of the Moon from probes and orbiters, then of Mars, and eventually from the outer planets. Each of these made it possible to produce better and more realistic and accurate paintings of these worlds.
UT: We are amazed at your early work — you were so young and doing such amazing space art! How does it feel to have inspired several generations of people? — Surely your art has driven many to say, “I want to go there!”
Hardy: I certainly hope so — that was the idea! In 1954 I met the astronomer Patrick Moore, who asked me to illustrate a new book in 1954, and we have continued to work together until the present day. Back then we wanted to so a sort of British version of The Conquest of Space, which we called ‘The Challenge of the Stars.’ In the 1950s we couldn’t find a publisher — they all said it was ‘too speculative!’ But a book with that title was published in 1972; ironically (and unbelievably), just when humans visited the Moon for the last time. We had hoped that the first Moon-landings would lead to a base, and that we would go on to Mars, but for all sorts of reasons (mainly political) this never happened. In 2004 Patrick and I produced a book called ‘Futures: 50 Years in Space,’ celebrating our 50 years together. It was subtitled: ‘The Challenge of the Stars: What we thought then –What we know now.’
I quite often find that younger space artists tell me they were influenced by The Challenge of the Stars, just as I was influenced by The Conquest of Space, and this is a great honour.
UT: What places on Earth have most inspired your art?
Hardy: I’m a past President (and now European VP) of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA; www.iaaa.org), and we hold workshops in the most ‘alien’ parts of Planet Earth. Through these I have been to the volcanoes of Hawaii and Iceland, to Death Valley CA, the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater, AZ, to Nicaragua. . . all of these provide not just inspiration but analogues of other worlds like Mars, Io or Triton, so that we can make our work more believable and authentic — as well as more beautiful, hopefully.
UT: How has technology changed how you do your work?
Hardy: I have always kept up with new technology, making use of xeroxes, photography (I used to do all my own darkroom work and processing), and most recently computers. I got an Atari ST with 512k (yes, K!) of RAM in 1986, and my first Mac in 1991. I use Photoshop daily, but I use hardly any 3D techniques, apart from Terragen to produce basic landscapes and Poser for figures. I do feel that 3D digital techniques can make art more impersonal; it can be difficult or impossible to know who created it! And I still enjoy painting in acrylics, especially large works on which I can use ‘impasto’ –laying on paint thickly with a palette knife and introducing textures that cannot be produced digitally!
UT: Your new website is a joy to peruse — how does technology/the internet help you to share your work?
Hardy: Thank you. It is hard now to remember how we used to work when we were limited to sending work by mail, or faxing sketches and so on. The ability to send first a low-res jpeg for approval, and then a high-res one to appear in a book or on a magazine cover, is one of the main advantages, and indeed great joys, of this new technology.
UT: I imagine an artist as a person working alone. However, you are part of a group of artists and are involved heavily in the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists. How helpful is it to have associations with fellow artists?
Hardy: It is true that until 1988, when I met other IAAA artists (both US, Canadian and, then, Soviet, including cosmonaut Alexei Leonov) in Iceland I had considered myself something of a lone wolf. So it was almost like ‘coming out of the closet’ to meet other artists who were on the same wavelength, and could exchange notes, hints and tips.
UT: Do you have a favorite image that you’ve created?
Hardy: Usually the last! Which in this case is a commission for a metre-wide painting on canvas called ‘Ice Moon’. I put this on Facebook, where it has received around 100 comments and ‘likes’ — all favourable, I’m glad to say. It can be seen there on my page, or on my own website, www.astroart.org (UT note: this is a painting in acrylics on stretched canvas, with the description,”A blue ice moon of a gas giant, with a derelict spaceship which shouldn’t look like a spaceship at first glance.”)
UT: Anything else you feel is important for people to know about your work?
Hardy: I do feel that it’s quite important for people to understand the difference between astronomical or space art, and SF (‘sci-fi’) or fantasy art. The latter can use a lot more imagination, but often contains very little science — and often gets it quite wrong. I also produce a lot of SF work, which can be seen on my site, and have done around 70 covers for ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ since 1971, and many for ‘Analog’. I’m Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA; www.asfa-art.org ) too. But I always make sure that my science is right! I would also like to see space art more widely accepted in art galleries, and in the Art world in general; we do tend to feel marginalised.
UT: Thank you for providing Universe Today with a more “accurate” banner — we really appreciate your contribution to our site!
Hardy: My pleasure.
See more at Hardy’s website, AstroArt or his Facebook page. Click on any of the images here to go directly to Hardy’s website for more information on each.