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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chesley Bonestell

Today, the Hubble Space Telescope gives us actual images of our universe. Chesley Bonestell was the Hubble Space Telescope of yesterday, helping pave the way from his canvases to space...the final frontier.
I've mentioned from time to time that in growing up, I was an avid futurist. I'm not talking about the Futurist style of painting from the early decades of the 20th-century (well before my time). By futurist, I refer mostly to technology and science. I watched and read everything I could get my hands on having to do with the future times in which I would live (seldom looking more than 20 years in ahead). One of my favorite shows on TV was Mr. Wizard (promoting a healthy breakfast of fruit, cereal, milk, bread, and butter). Although I was more interested in domestic technology--microwave ovens, self-driving cars, architecture, and electronics--I also had an abiding interest in space travel, and to a lesser extent, science fiction. Although I probably encountered his work at the time, I'd never hears of the artist who has come to be known as the Father of Space Art, Chesley Bonestell.

Exquisite beauty and as accurate as the science of the time would allow. Bonestell's most famous space painting, Saturn as Seen from Titan (1944) can also be seen at the top.
The space pioneer of art.
Chesley Bonestell was an American painter, designer, and illustrator. During the early de-cades of the 20th-century, his paintings were a major influence on science fiction art and illustration. Later, after the Second World War, Bonestell did much to inspire the Am-erican space program. Bonestell was born in 1888 and grew up in the San Francisco area. When he was about seventeen, he had the opportunity to view Saturn through the 12-inch (300 mm) telescope at San Jose's Lick Observatory. The experience so charged his imagination that he rushed home to do his first astronomic painting. Unfortunately, the painting was lost in the great fire following the San Francisco earthquake a year later.

Both interplanetary science and Bonestell's art evolved around the same time especially in the area of color. Notice the highly unlikely cloud in the upper image. All three were intended to represent the Martian landscape.
Bonestell went on to study architecture at Columbia University in New York City. Dropping out in his third year, he worked as an illustrator and designer for several of the leading architectural firms of the time. While with William van Alen, Bonestell, along with Warren Straton, designed the Art Deco façade of the Chrysler Building, including its iconic eagles. About the same time, Bonestell designed the Central Building, Manhattan office and apartment buildings and several state capitols. I looked, but if any of these drawings still exist, they've long ago been overshadowed by Bonestell's sci-fi illustrations.

The 1970s lunar lander and today's International Space Station bear little resemblance to Bonestell's creations. It's amazing the shortcuts and downsizing to be seen when actual costs enter the equation.
In 1952, Dr. Werner Von Braun wrote an article for Collier's Magazine describing a trip to the moon by way of a rotating space station (above). Chesley Bonestell illustrated the article, which became famous for popularizing the idea of travelling to and colonizing the moon. It's interesting to notice how both scientific and artistic conceptions of space hardware (above) evolved over the period when Bonestell began doing space art in the 1940s and the real items in use today and in the past. Looking further into the future, it remains to be seen to what degree Bonestell was accurate in his depiction of moon colonization (below).

Bonestell's moon colony conception is no Holiday Inn, but It still might be fun to spend a week-long vacation enjoying the 5/6th gravity of the moon.
Following the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to the final end of WW II, Collier's Magazine commissioned Bonestell to illustrate a cover for its August 5, 1950, issue. Inside was a lengthy article detailing the possible death and destruction of a nuclear weapon dropped on New York City. Bonestell's illustration (below) goes so far as to depict three (perhaps four) Hiroshima-size bombs in various stages detonation over the New York City area and  the island of Manhattan (an obvious reference to the wartime Manhattan Project). Similar, Photoshopped images appeared after nine-eleven.

Art at its most horrific.

Chesley Bonestell died in June, 1986.
This unfinished painting was on his easel.


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