Saturday, March 16, 2013
The artist who saw the future
Chesley Bonestell was proof that artists can not only envision the future, but help to shape it. The premier artist of space travel - in his lifetime or ever - was born in 1888 and lived to see Apollo and the Space Shuttle. His photorealistic art, especially in the pivotal years of the 1940s and 1950s, showed us space in such detail that his images were sometimes mistaken for photographs by people who didn't realize that there were no photographs of space yet. (One of his techniques, though, was to build extremely detailed models, photograph them, and then paint over the photos.) His most important work was for a series in Collier's magazine done with Werhner von Braun. If some of the technology shown didn't represent the directions we actually took (the giant wheel space station and von Braun's huge winged ships were never built) his evocative work helped generate public support for the space program. Bonestell learned space technology so well that he corrected concepts from von Braun, the actual engineer. (Prints of the amazing work displayed on this io9 site (link above) are still available here.) When Bonestell died at 98, there was a work in progress on his easel.