That's How It Felt to Walk on the Moon
Alan Bean, 1986
Alan Bean is one of the 12 fortunate men from planet Earth who have had the opportunity to walk on the moon. In 1969 he went to the moon on the Apollo 12 mission, the second manned moon landing. He is also quite an accomplished artist. In 1981 he left NASA to devote himself full-time to painting. While most of his paintings are straightforward depictions of various people (usually fellow astronauts) and events in the space program, to me there is something slightly different and unique about this painting when compared to Bean's other work. In none of his other paintings that I've seen is there the slightly surrealistic touch of the indistinct, undefined background combined with the immediately noticeable fade-out of the astronaut's legs before they reach the ground. A brilliant touch if you ask me. As if he were floating weightless in a mysterious, unknown environment, unconnected to any solid anchor that humans are used to on Earth. In other words, a perfect visual metaphor for how he really must have felt.
This is what Bean himself has to say about this painting:
"How did it feel to walk on the moon?" That is the single question I've been asked most often since November 19, 1969. I've said, "It's that feeling of excitement a person experiences only when their life's vision becomes a reality." Or "It's the feeling one has when years of intense dedication and training finally make their most cherished dream come true." Often I'll remember, "I felt a long, long way, 239,000 miles at least, from most of the people and places I love." I might also add, "It seemed unreal... impossible... but my space gear, and the familiar voices from earth told me otherwise." From time to time I would look down and say to myself "This is the moon," and then I would look up at a small, beautiful, bright, blue-and-white sphere hanging in the mysterious, luminous black sky and say to myself "That is the earth." I've tried a lot of words over the years but I don't think I've ever completely expressed my feelings about that incredible experience.
The original idea for this painting came to me in 1986. I began painting what had taken shape in my mind but when it was nearly completed the painting just didn't feel right. I set it aside for several months but studied it every day or so. A new vision emerged that elicited happier and more exhilarating thoughts and emotions, ones closely related to how it actually felt. Then I was able to finish the painting.