How bizarre it is to see astronauts in extreme situations while safe on earth. The above depictions of space suit tests (noise, cold and heat respectively) were included in Werner Büdeler’sProjekt Apollo – Das Abanteuer der Mondlandung (Bertelsmann Sachbuchverlag, 1969). Projekt Apollo recounts the complete story of the Apollo missions and is stuffed with illustrations andphotographs. Büdeler was a German aerospace journalist and nonfiction writer. In 1970, he was awards the Jules-Verne medal for aerospace journalism. These look like they could be inserts into a Jules Verne science fiction narrative of brave explorers gearing up for the next beautifully bizarre mission, rather than the work of non-fiction.
The eyes in Gregory Manchess’ portrait of Scott Carpenter are almost identical. The bright reflections bouncing off his helmet can’t obscure those same focused eyes. In his artist statement, Manchess reflects, “As a kid, I was always looking skyward, staring out into interstellar space from behind the atmospheric face mask of Earth. I feel a kinship with these explorers. Perhaps it’s the promise of all that discovery.” A kinship that is also seen in the eyes of Candy Carpenter.
Emerging from a void, Andrew G. Hobbs‘ hallowed portrait of an astronaut is striking. Looking over the many space suits that we have put up here over time, most are the Luke Skywalker types in their white, pillowy Apollo suits that embody the epitome of the hero archetype – full of wholesome goodness and hope. Hobbs’ astronaut falls on the dark side. The helmet frames no visible human inside as the suit weighs heavy on the shoulders of a form that it may house. The multitude of fabric, buckles, hoses and claps that decorate the suit are suitably highlighted in his grey scale portrait against the dark emptiness of space.
There is something about astronauts rendered in oil paint that really gets me going. Oil portraiture obviously has a long rich lineage; it is almost fitting to see the space faring explorers immortally captured in oil like the heroes and royalty of times past. Jonathan Wateridge’s Group Series No.2 – Space Program (2008) captures the pride, reservation and uneasiness that must have too been seen in the eyes of those venturing out in wooden ships to chart the unknown world. Group Series No. 2 was shown at the Saatchi Gallery, Wateridge’s dossier includes, “Astronauts have an almost symbolic status. They operate on the frontier of an effort to understand the unknown. They appeal to a child-like sense of awe and adventure yet are the ultimate display of a culture’s economic power and political ideology.”
I have a deep affinity for airports. I grew up in San Diego, flying out of Lindbergh Field where the Lucky Lindy aviator has a massive mural dedicated to his honor. If you’re lucky enough to claim your bags from Terminal Two, you’ll find a lifesize model of The Spirit of Saint Louis hovering above. The small single runway airport in Northern Michigan that I would fly into every summer, has Aviator Snoopy ceiling fans whose propellers keep summer travelers safe from the squelching heat. I dropped off a friend last night at SFO wearing a full suit (his theory that it would wrinkle less if worn, rather than stored). And he did look quite sharp next to the slew of passengers arriving in pajama bottoms and hoodies. I know the golden age of commercial airfare is long over, but I cherish that many terminals and airports continue to glorify airtravel of times past.
The above mosaic can be found in the single terminal at Ulan-Ude Airport in Eastern Siberia. A fearless red suited cosmonaut greets travelers as they touch down. Maybe I am too much of an idealist, but nothing compares to feeling like you just participated in a great legacy of human accomplishment.