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Monday, October 4, 2010

An Out of this World Artist

There is an artist painting today whose work reflects his personal experiences unique to himself and but a handful of other men on earth.  His work brings between $18,000 and $70,000 each.  To date, he has completed a total of 163 paintings, averaging about four per year, each one sold before it's completed.  He gave up a lucrative career working for a government agency in 1981 to pursue his art full-time and hasn't regretted it for a moment. Inspired by the likes of western artists, Frederic Remington and Andrew Russell, his work is remarkably like theirs even though he's never painted a cowboy in his life.  Nearly all of his work reflects a subject matter almost as old as art itself, yet he paints from a perspective few other artist have ever attempted, and with an authenticity none could ever hope to achieve.  His paintings bear titles such as Homeward Bound, Fender Lovin' Care, Sunrise Over Antares, Tiptoeing on the Ocean of Storms, A giant Leap, and Houston, We Have a Problem.

If you haven't guessed by now, the artist is Alan Bean.  He landed on the moon during the Apollo 12 mission with a precision that impressed even his colleagues at NASA, yet he viewed the lunar landscape, which he has since painted dozens of times, through the eyes of an artist.  Even while employed by NASA in such roles as commander of Skylab, he was working on evening art classes and testing the waters for what he considers now his real calling--to do for the space frontier what his artistic idols did for the western frontier.  His 31 hours on the moon with fellow astronaut, Pete Conrad, have provided a wealth of recollections and inspiration while his access to NASA photos, charts, models, and other paraphernalia from his years in the astronaut corps provide a similar wealth of technical input.

Alan Bean in his studio, 2000

Bean brings the same demanding perfectionism required of a test pilot to his work as an artist, even having gone so far as to recall paintings in which he later found he'd made technical errors.  Beyond that, he incorporates bits and pieces of the "real thing" so to speak in the paintings themselves, starting with aircraft plywood and white acrylic texturing compound, he uses the same geologists tools he used on the moon to create a lunar-like texture upon which he paints.  As the work progresses, Bean uses such things as flecks of gold foil, moon dust, and even charred bits of the Apollo 12 heat shield to add further texture and interest to his work.  At the age of 78, the former astronaut turned painter's lunarscapes maintain the romantic aura of the moon despite his having walked upon it.  His work doesn't appear in museums or galleries.  As each one is finished, it disappears into a private home seldom to be seen again, except for some 93 paintings appearing in his book, "Apollo: An Eyewitness Account".  In the book's introduction, fellow astronaut, John Glenn, writes:  "He saw the same monochromatic world as the other astronauts, yet with an artist's eye he also saw the intrinsic beauty in the rocks and boulders..."

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