WASHINGTON Alan Bean has checked the actuarial tables and knows the chances of the three Apollo 11 astronauts being around for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing are slim, as in no better than 5 percent. That, he says, is another reason why this week's 40th anniversary celebration is so important to him, the rest of the surviving moon walkers and legions of Apollo engineers and technicians.
Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon aboard Apollo 12 in October 1969, also happens to be the only artist who paints the lunar surface based on personal observation. The Apollo and Skylab veteran who spent more than 69 days in space shocked his colleagues in 1981 by retiring from NASA, rolling the dice and taking up painting full time. He immediately set to work trying to depict his experiences walking on the moon and the meaning of Apollo. His tools are textured acrylic paint, moon dust, bits of his spacesuit and spaceship. Each was applied and embedded on canvas, airplane plywood and masonite.
He's still at it at the age of 77.
In conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has mounted a retrospective of Bean's moon paintings under the direction of Smithsonian curator Carolyn Russo. Certainly for space enthusiasts, and perhaps for art lovers as well, the exhibition succeeds in showing the progression of Bean's hard work, which intentionally or unintentionally, melds esthetics with technology while seeking to preserve the Apollo story for posterity.