Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Flag on the Moon

To most people the Moon is a mixture of light and dark shades of gray, but there, at six landing sites, is a colorful reminder of Man's presence on the lunar surface. One that has been included in many different artist's interpretation of our landings on the Moon and that is the American Flag.

The brilliant flash of red, white and blue against the extreme grays and blacks of the lunar surface is a wonderful contrast and has become a favorite subject of mine and in some cases a fairly poignant theme to different artists.

I have collected from various space artists their versions of a flag on the Moon. Most of the work was completed by the time I acquired it, but if the work was a commission all I asked of the artist was to be unique.

The first flag painting added to the collection is a work done by Dr. William Hartmann and is entitled "We Were There." Dr. Hartmann worked as a planetary geologist during the Apollo Era. Bill was instrumental in developing some of the theories on Basin Impact Formation and the Origin of the Moon.

I asked Bill what prompted him to paint this piece. Bill's response surprised me and very much added to emotion of the work.

"I always have a wistful feeling about the fact that we went to the moon...I was a graduate student working on lunar research (when) JFK announced the goal and worked through to my PhD in lunar work and craters during that decade. The simple shutdown of the whole effort leaves me with feelings of lost youth."

Bill goes on to discuss the fact that Alan Bean had influenced this particular painting, but he still returned back to the subliminal reason for the painting.

"I wanted to play with the colors of the flag against the blue Earth, and the idea of this symbol of our audacity left there in this lonely place all these years, after everyone packed up and went home to that blue orb in the sky."

While Dr. Hartmann's work may reflect the disappointment at the ending of a great moment in exploration, there are other artists that look at the flag as an inspiration of what Man can accomplish.

One painting that looks towards the inspiration of Man on the Moon is "One Earth and Fifty Stars" by Detlev van Ravenswaay. While one of the unique things about Deltev has been his ability to explore Space in the abstract with his work, he follows the norm in this painting.

This study of the final work recreates his vision of the flag after the successful landing of Apollo 11 as inspiration for future missions to the Solar System.

"Apollo 11 - first manned landing on the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin planted the US Flag in the Sea of tranquility - above the flag, the Earth, our home planet. This is my favorite painting (that) I ever did."

The painting uses two colorful objects (the flag and the Earth) as contrasting subjects against the gray of the lunar surface and the blackness of outer space. The flag as the main object reflects one nation's travels to another world, but the Earth reflects all Mankind's wonder at the journey.

Sometimes the inspiration comes from the need to create something different. Another wonderful artist from Europe is Ed Hengeveld of the Netherlands. Ed has produced some excellent work on the entire space program. Ed's work portrays through realism Man's flights in Space and landings on the Moon.

I commissioned Ed to paint a flag on the Moon for me. My only request was that it be different from the normal portrayal of the flag as it sits on the lunar surface. "Two Flags" was Ed's answer to my request.

The rare use of the flag patch on a moonwalker's A7L EVA suit is juxtapositioned against the lunar surface flag in the background in the composition. It is not the standard flag on the Moon portrait.

In a recent purchase, I was able to acquire another work by Chris Butler titled "Old Glories" The above piece shows the flag from a different perspective. As if lying flat on the ground we are looking up at the flag with an eye level view of the lunar bootprints. The setting sun and the eye level perspective create shadows that make the boulders loom large in the painting.

I will have to ask Chris if the setting sun on the scene was meant as an image of how America failed to continue exploration after placing the United States flag on the Moon.

Currently, the final original work in the lunar flag collection is from Gregory Rudd's "History of the American Flag" series for USPS postcards. On a personal note, I purchased this piece through an Internet gallery website. It is interesting how far the "net" has come in just a few years.

The key to this painting is it's composition. The painting takes three objects and puts each of them into 1/3rd of the painting both vertically and front to back. The astronaut occupies the foreground and bottom third. The Moon is directly in the middle and the American flag occupies the background and top third of the entire composition. Each object overlaps much like a stair step to the top of the painting.

I can only assume that Mr. Rudd took his inspiration for the monumental achievement of Man landing on the Moon, by the way he portrays the moonwalker saluting in the work.

One might ask why I include this work in a collection of flags painted on the lunar surface. The reason I have is due to the fact that if you look closely at the helmet of the moonwalker, you will see that he is saluting a lunar surface flag that is reflected in his visor. It is a final trick placed in the painting to portray a Flag on the Moon.

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.