Space Art

micro meteorites by Lucien Rudaux

Space art is a general term for art emerging from knowledge and ideas associated with outer space, both as a source of inspiration and as a means for visualizing and promoting space travel. Whatever the stylistic path, the artist is generally attempting to communicate ideas somehow related to space, often including appreciation of the infinite variety and vastness which surrounds us.

In some cases, artists who consider themselves space artists use more than illustration and painting to communicate scientific discoveries or works depicting space; a new breed of space artists work directly with space flight technology and scientists as an opportunity to expand the arts, humanities and cultural expression relative to space exploration.

The Cosmos contains many sources of visual inspiration that our growing abilities to gather and propagate has spread through the mass culture. The first photographs of the entire Earth by satellites and manned Apollo missions brought a new sense of our world as an island in empty space and promoted ideas of the essential unity of humanity. Photographs taken by explorers on the Moon shared the experience of being on another world. The famous ‘Pillars of Creation’ and other Hubble photos often evoke intense responses from viewers.

Practitioners of the visual arts have for many decades explored space in their imaginations using traditional painting media and many are now using digital media toward similar ends. Science Fiction magazines and picture essay magazines were once a major outlet for space art, often featuring planets, space ships and dramatic alien landscapes. Chesley Bonestell, R. A. Smith, Lucien Rudaux, and Ludek Pesek were some of the major artists actively involved in visualizing space exploration proposals with input from experts in the infant rocketry field anxious to spread their ideas to a wider audience. A strength of particularly Bonestell’s work was the portrayal of exotic worlds with their own alien beauty, often giving a sense of destination as much as of the technological means of getting there.

The premier organization in the world for creating space art is the International Association of Astronomical Artists. Composed of over 120 members, the IAAA aims to depict the wonders of the Universe in ways to inspire the greater human population and raise awareness of space. Members of the IAAA have been creating space art in all of its myriad forms for 25 years, from traditional painting, to digital works, and 3-D zero-gravity sculpture.

Space artists may work closely with space scientists and engineers to help them to visualize and develop their scientific and technological concepts making the dream of space exploration a reality. Other forms of pictorial space art bring the viewer to inner visions inspired directly or otherwise by the fruits of the expanding vision of humanity. Some aspects of such art pay visual homage to outer space, popular ideas of life on other worlds including alien visitation visions, dream symbology, psychedelic imagery and other influences on contemporary visionary art.

Now that artists have experienced zero gravity conditions during many flights flown with NASA, the Russian and French Space Agencies, and with the Zero Gravity Arts Consortium (ZGAC) as part of a hoped for migration of humanity beyond Earth, artistic expressions unknowable today will continue to unfold with new forms of microgravity expression emerging. Although such dreams await substantial opportunity, early efforts by artists to have art pieces placed in space have already been accomplished with both holography, sculpture, painting, mircogravity mobile, floating literary works and sculpture.

The first painting to be brought to Earth-orbit was a radiant study of the golden sunlight on a Soviet space station by Russian artist Andrei Sokolov, carried aboard the Soviet Mir space station in the mid 1980s. In 1984 Joseph McShane and in 1989 Lowery Burgess had their conceptual artworks flown aboard the Space Shuttle utilizing NASA’s ‘Get Away Special’ program. The first sculpture specifically designed for a human habitat in orbit was Arthur Woods’ ‘Cosmic Dancer’ which was sent to the Mir station in 1993.

In 1995, ‘Ars ad Astra’ – the 1st Art Exhibition in Earth orbit consisting of 20 original artworks from 20 artists and an electronic archive also took place on the Mir as a part of ESA’s EUROMIR’95 mission. In 1998, Frank Pietronigro, American artist, and co- founder of ZGAC, flew ‘Research Project Number 33: Investigating The Creative Process in a Microgravity Environment’ where the artist drew, created ‘drift paintings’ and danced in microgrvity space. In 2006, the artist returned to microgravity flight to create three new works, one in collaboration with Lowry Burgess, ‘Moments in the Infinite Absolute,’ ‘Flags in Space!’ and a new form of microgravity mobile.

The Slovenian theater director Dragan Živadinov staged a performance called ‘Noordung Zero Gravity Biomechanical’ during a parabolic flight organized through the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center facility in Star City in 1999.

The UK arts group ‘The Arts Catalyst,’ with the MIR consortium organized a series of parabolic ‘zero gravity’ flights for artistic and cultural experimentation with the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, as well as with the European Space Agency, between 2000 and 2004, including ‘Investigations in Microgravity,’ ‘MIR Flight 001,’ and ‘MIR Campaign 2003.’ Artists who participated in these flights and visits to Russia and ESA have included the Otolith Group, Stefan Gec, Ansuman Biswas and Jem Finer, Kitsou Dubois, Yuri Leiderman, and Antunez Roca.

Small art objects have been carried on several Apollo missions, such as gold emblems and a small ‘Fallen Astronaut’ figurine that was left on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission. Visual observations have been recorded in drawings and commentary by earlier Cosmonauts and Astronauts of difficult to photograph phenomena such as the airglow, twilight colors, and outer details of the Solar corona. An able and observant artist can record aspects of the surroundings beyond the design limitations of any particular camera system.

‘Astronomical art,’ the direct inheritor of the artistic standards of American painter, Chelsey Bonestell, is an aspect of space art whose primary emphasis is in giving the viewer visual impressions of alien and exotic places in the Cosmos. As an Astronomical artist one should have a sense of why the lighting, sky color, even your chosen landscape surroundings appear as they do, and how a drastic change in a specific condition as on other worlds could alter the scene dramatically. One should have a reasonable ‘grounding’ in science, the nature of the sky and weather, and geology for knowing the Earth, as well as Astronomy for knowing the heavens. Such artists share with every other conceivable creative expression the vast arena containing what can be called Space Art.

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