Friday, December 23, 2005

John Young in the Mountains of the Moon

In 1972, John Young and Charlie Duke landed in the Descartes Highlands region of the Moon. During their EVA on the lunar surface, Charlie took this picture of John at Station One. The gnomon in the foreground is an instrument for providing scale for measurement, a color scale and tone of shade scale on the lunar surface. The lunar rover (LRV) is in the background. Plum Crater is beside the LRV. The large white plain in the background is actually South Ray Crater. Stone Mountain is in the far background.

Alan Bean immortalized the moment in that photograph in a painting entitled "John Young on the Mountains of the Moon." Alan changed the perspective slightly in order to place John directly in the center of the composition, but the elements included in the painting are the same as in the photograph. Alan also added color. He chose not to add colors typical of the lunar surface, but colors that represented his feelings of the types that a lunar landscape might have from an artist's standpoint or more importantly from the standpoint of an Impressionist.

Besides the Impressionistic influence, Alan has added a bit of modern and space technique. Looking closely at the painting, there are various imprints in the painting that add a third dimension to his work.

Alan uses his actual lunar geology hammer used on the lunar surface to place indents into the plaster he uses as a base for his paintings. As briefly explained above, Alan uses aviation grade plywood as the initial base for his work, then coats the plywood with a thin layer of plaster. As the plaster hardens, Alan puts imprints into the plaster using the lunar hammer, a core tube and a bronze copy of his lunar boot. It is very much of the same way the old Masters painted in fresco in ancient times.

Alan also includes a piece of his American flag patch from his spacesuit used on the Moon which includes a bit of lunar dust. Alan also adds a bit of Kapton foil and heatshield debris, so the painting's owner will have something not only from the Moon, but from the spacecraft too.

In 2003, I was able to add this painting to my collection of Space Art. I was advised that Alan had completed a painting that was just what I was looking for as an addition to the collection. I was also invited to visit Alan at his studio to meet with the artist and to pick up the painting. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to visit Alan at his studio.

It was at his studio, where Alan told me how he painted this work. He also told me that he really was pleased with this particular piece, because he felt that he had perfected the color scheme and the tonal qualities of the crater shadowing. I have called the photograph I took of Alan with the piece, "The Contented Artist," because of those comments and the look of an artist contented with the final product of his labors.

I chose to frame the work with one of Alan's brushes that he actually used on the painting by using a wide cherry wood frame and a floating mount to bring out the relief of the work. This little jewel now hangs in my study along with flown artifacts from the Space Race.

Alan and I posed with the painting at his studio. We had an very enjoyable day together. We even had lunch at one of his favorite Italian restaurants. The man truly loves his spaghetti.

While I was visiting at Alan's in October of this year, I was in the studio and noticed that Alan had kept the studies of the original work on an easel tucked in a corner of the studio. I commented that I liked the fact that he kepted the studies out. Alan told me that he enjoyed the work and kept the studies out for reference.

There are three studies that relate to the painting. Alan compared each study and what he was trying to accomplish with each one. He also discussed the coloring of each painting. He uses purple in his paintings as a contrasting color to yellow. Alan said that the Moon is very bright and that he was looking for a color to tone down the brightness of the shadowed areas. Purple has been the most appropriate color he has found so far.

Alan told me that he feels that this study accomplished what he was looking to do in the final painting. I was surprised, because I figured the most finished one was the final study before he worked on the painting.

I snapped several photographs of Alan at work in his study, but this one showed the best view of his studio. It also shows just a few of the more famous works that grace the walls of his studio. The originals of the Greenwich Studio prints are hanging on the wall like "Kissing the Earth" and "In Flight." Alan gave me a wonderful tour.

Alan also let me handle a few objects from his spaceflights on Apollo 12 and Skylab-2. I got the chance to hold his lunar geology hammer and wear his Skylab EVA A7L gloves.

It was a wonderful way to add a fantastic piece from a great artist into my space art collection.