The
Alan Bean
Online Gallery

Art(ist) Off This World

 

Alan Bean in 1981
(composite by Ulrich Lotzmann)

   

(Left) Alan Bean on the Moon in November 1969
(Right) His favorite self-portrait: 'That's How It Felt To Walk On The Moon' (1986)

   
ALAN BEAN - ARTIST AND MOONWALKER

by Ulrich Lotzmann

I have seen many places in the USA that are related to the Apollo moon landing program and I have visited many space museums that display flown Apollo hardware; but nowhere else have I felt the spirit of Apollo more strongly and more vividly than in Alan Bean's studio - surrounded by his impressive and inspiring paintings.

These paintings are an eyewitness account of the first human explorations of another celestial body - they are really art 'off this world'.

Alan Bean in his studio in 2001
with a replica of his lunar boot
and a surface prepared for a painting

 
   
Alan Bean, born on the 15th of March 1932 in Texas, was a trained U. S. naval aviator and test pilot when he was selected in 1963 for NASA's third astronaut group. In 1969 he made his first space flight. As the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 12 he became the fourth man in history to walk on the lunar surface, preceded only by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Pete Conrad.

In 1973 Bean made his second space flight - this time as Commander of the second Skylab crew that spent a record-breaking 59 days in Earth orbit.
 

Pete Conrad (left), Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean pose in front of the Saturn V they rode into space

   
Often Alan Bean is described as an artist who flew to the Moon, but that's a stereotypical idea. He walked on the Moon and later flew aboard Skylab as a highly trained astronaut who was completely focused on the success of his mission: no time for sketches, no time for little paintings. It would be a couple of years after his Skylab flight before he began to express his own memories and feelings, as well as the memories of his fellow moonwalkers in an artistic manner.

Alan Bean hammering a core tube
into the lunar surface

 
   

Bean's development as a painter began when he took his first art class while he was a test pilot at Patuxent River, Maryland. Among the early works are flower motifs, abstract flight motifs, and copies of paintings by Cezanne, Degas, and Greacen. After his Apollo 12 and Skylab 3 space flights he worked on the Space Shuttle program and was named acting Chief Astronaut, overseeing the training of new astronauts. For the first time since he was assigned to the Apollo 12 crew, he was no longer preparing for an upcoming space flight of his own and, all of sudden, there was spare time for an old love: painting.
 

Alan Bean learning his craft in 1964

   
In an interview for the Texas Alcalde magazine, Bean described how he decided to start a new career as an artist: "A friend of mine from the University of Texas, Pat Brill, and I were out having dinner one night when I'd come back from Skylab, and she said to me, 'What are you going to do when you leave NASA and you quit being an astronaut?'

I said, 'Well, I'm not planning on doing that any time soon, but I'll probably go to work for Rockwell or McDonnell-Douglas or something like that.' And she said, 'Well you ought to be an artist.' I said, 'You're crazy.' I hadn't painted any space paintings, only other traditional kinds of paintings.

Mission patch and U.S. flag on
Alan Bean's Apollo 12 spacesuit

 
   
She said, 'No, I think you could make a living being an artist.' I had never thought of that as a profession, even though it was my hobby.

After she said that, then I couldn't get it out of my mind. I began to say things like, 'You know, it's true. I paint on the weekend. I don't go designing airplanes on the weekend. Maybe I would really like being an artist.' So I took some time off and painted full-time to see if I'd like it. I simulated it, which is always good. I learned that at NASA. I simulated being an artist, and the more I simulated being an artist the more I realized it's much more difficult than I'd thought. But at the same time I liked it. I cared about it! I had many nice job offers for a lot of money, but I didn't care about them. I care about these paintings. I care about them every day."
 

Bootprints in a work in progress

   
In 1984, only 3 years after Alan Bean left NASA to start his new career as an artist, two exhibitions of his Apollo paintings took place at the Meredith Long Art Gallery in Houston. They were great successes and suddenly people started to realize that Bean's works are really masterpieces of fine art.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov is the only other artist to have traveled in space.

'Home Sweet Home' (by Alan Bean, 1983)

 
   
Alan Bean's paintings are both impressionistic and technically detailed. They are an attempt to accurately and objectively record the visual reality of stories that he believes future generations will enjoy.

Bean prefers to paint his motifs with acrylics, because acrylics are as high tech as his subjects. Although developed in the 19th century, acrylics occurred first on the art scene during the beginning space age and are the most important innovation in artistic materials since the invention of oil paints.

Acrylic paints are made of emulsions of pigments, water, and clear, non-yellowing resins. They dry quickly and without changing color. Acrylics are weather resistant and retain their brilliance with age. Covered with a final coat of varnish there's no need to frame them under glass.
 

Alan Bean adds a portrait of Apollo 12 sample 12051 to 'Rock 'n' Roll on the Ocean of Storms'

   
A distinctive characteristic of an original Bean painting is its rough and very specific surface texture. To attain the desired effect, he takes a sheet of masonite or aircraft plywood cut to the desired size and covers it with a thick acrylic modeling paste. When this acrylic layer starts to set, Bean begins to texture its surface. First, he uses the sole of a lunar boot replica to impress footprints into the acrylic paste. Next, he adds additional texture with the geology hammer that he used on the Moon in November 1969 to do such things as plant the US flag on the Ocean of Storms, loosen the fuel element for the ALSEP, attempt to repair the broken TV camera, and drive core tubes deep into the lunar soil. (Although the hammer was to have been discarded on the Moon, Alan Bean brought it back to Earth as his very special memento.)

With the hammer, he makes various marks in the hardening modeling paste. Other, round marks are added by pressing on the paste with one of the core tube bits (No. 1 in the photo at left) used on the Moon to penetrate the lunar surface.

Textured base for a painting
with lunar mementos added (see text)

 
   
To add to the unique character of his paintings, and to give them the very personal touch of a man fortunate to have walked on the Moon, he cuts small pieces from the U.S. flag (No. 2 in the photo above) and the NASA and Apollo 12 mission patches and his name tag that were sewn on his EVA space suit and fixes them on the textured surface using a thin acrylic medium. Because Bean and Conrad spent more than seven hours outside the lunar module and got their suits very dirty as they worked, each of the fragments is impregnated with small amounts of lunar dust. As a final touch, Bean adds small pieces from the gold Kapton foil that insulated the command module Yankee Clipper's hatch leading to the lunar module Intrepid (No. 3 in the photo above). He also adds charred particles (No. 4 in the photo above) from Yankee Clipper's heat shield.

Thus the base layer of all of his paintings contain small pieces of his space suit and the command module and also very small amounts of Moon dust. Finally, the paintings, themselves, convey unique memories of an unique era.
 

'A Giant Leap' (by Alan Bean, 1995)
Neil Armstrong steps into history

   
Influenced by the great paintings of French impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) , who Alan Bean considers as his favorite painter, he has developed his very own style and he is still looking for new impressionistic interpretations of his lunar motifs. The series of paintings entitled 'Cernan, Gnomon and Crater' provides examples of his search for colors that he can use 'while still making the Moon look like itself'.

Lajos Markos, a reknown Hungarian-born portrait painter and painter of historical subjects, particularly of the American West, stated shortly before his death in 1993: "If I could own one painting of Bean or (one by) another - let's say from Monet or Manet - I would prefer Alan Bean."

Enjoy the Alan Bean Online Gallery !

Ulrich Lotzmann
Marburg, Dassel, Germany
March 2002

Cernan, Gnomon, and Crater (studies by Alan Bean)
No. 1 (1993, upper left), No. 2 (1993, upper right), No.3 (1994, lower left), No.4 (1998, lower right)

 
   

The Alan Bean Online Gallery

is dedicated to

the next generation of lunar explorers

 

Detail from 'Hadley Rille' (by Alan Bean, 1996)

A full discussion of Alan Bean's work can be found in his book, 'Apollo - An Eyewitness Account', with text by Andrew Chaikin, published by The Greenwich Workshop Press, 1998. Correspondence concerning the Alan Bean Online Gallery should be directed to Prof. Dr. Ulrich Lotzmann, Philipps-University, Georg-Voigt-Str.3, 35033 Marburg, Germany or lotzmann@post.med.uni-marburg.de

Gallery Entrance

The Alan Bean Online Gallery is fully authorized by the artist. It is the most complete presentation of Alan Bean's art available. The gallery will be updated with images of his newest paintings as they are completed.

Three Gallery Guides are linked below, with the paintings organized as indicated. After opening one of the guides, digital versions of any of Alan Bean's paintings can be accessed by clicking the painting title or by opening a set of thumbnail version of a group of paintings and then clicking on the chosen thumbnail. Either path will take you to an intermediate-sized version of the painting along with a story written by Bean about the painting. Clicking on the painting will bring up a large version. Below the story, links are provided to the previous painting in each of the three guides and to the next painting in each guide. Links are also provided to the three guides.

Important Copyright Notice

The digital images and stories contained in the Alan Bean Online Gallery are protected by copyright and are provided solely for the private use of visitors to the Gallery. Commercial use of any kind without the express written consent of Alan Bean is strictly prohibited.


Alphabetical Guide

Paintings organized by title

Chronological Guide

Paintings grouped by copyright date

Mission Guide

Paintings grouped by mission

Non-Lunar Works

Another Aspect of Alan's Artistic Vision

Gallery concept and scans by Ulrich Lotzmann
Gallery layout and guide structure by Eric Jones.