Bean, Alan and Andrew Chaikin. Apollo. Shelton, CT: The Greenwich Workshop, 1998. ISBN 978-0-86713-050-8.
On November 19th, 1969, Alan Bean became the fourth man to walk on the Moon, joining Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the surface of Oceanus Procellarum. He was the first person to land on the Moon on his very first space flight. He later commanded the Skylab 3 mission in 1973, spending more than 59 days in orbit.

Astronauts have had a wide variety of second careers after retiring from NASA: executives, professors, politicians, and many others. Among the Apollo astronauts, only Alan Bean set out, after leaving NASA in 1981, to become a professional artist, an endeavour at which he has succeeded, both artistically and commercially. This large format coffee table book collects many of his paintings completed before its publication in 1998, with descriptions by the artist of the subject material of each and, in many cases, what he was trying to achieve artistically. The companion text by space writer Andrew Chaikin (A Man on the Moon) provides an overview of Bean's career and the Apollo program.

Bean's art combines scrupulous attention to technical detail (for example, the precise appearance of items reflected in the curved visor of spacesuit helmets) with impressionistic brushwork and use of colour, intended to convey how the lunar scenes felt, as opposed to the drab, near monochrome appearance of the actual surface. This works for some people, while others find it grating—I like it very much. Visit the Alan Bean Gallery and make up your own mind.

This book is out of print, but used copies are available. (While mint editions can be pricey, non-collector copies for readers just interested in the content are generally available at modest cost).

October 2008 Permalink

Miller, Ron and Fredrick C. Durant III. The Art of Chesley Bonestell. London: Paper Tiger, 2001. ISBN 978-1-85585-884-8.
If you're interested in astronomy and space, you're almost certainly familiar with the space art of Chesley Bonestell, who essentially created the genre of realistic depictions of extraterrestrial scenes. But did you know that Bonestell also:

  • Was a licensed architect in the State of California, who contributed to the design of a number of buildings erected in Northern California in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake?
  • Chose the site for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (of which the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts remains today)?
  • Laid out the Seventeen Mile Drive in Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula?
  • Did detailed design of the ornamentation of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, and illustrated pamphlets explaining the engineering of the bridge?
  • Worked for years in Hollywood doing matte paintings for films including Citizen Kane?
  • Not only did the matte paintings, but designed the buildings of Howard Roark for the film version of The Fountainhead?
  • Painted the Spanish missions of California as they would have appeared in their heyday?

Although Bonestell always considered himself an illustrator, not an artist, and for much of his career took no particular care to preserve the originals of his work, here was a polymath with a paintbrush who brought genius as well as precision to every subject he rendered. He was, like his collaborator on Destination Moon, Robert A. Heinlein (the two admired each other's talents, but Bonestell thought Heinlein somewhat of a nut in his political views; their relationship got off to a rocky start when Bonestell visited Heinlein's self-designed dream house and pronounced his architectural judgement that it looked like a gas station), a businessman first—he would take the job that paid best and quickest, and produced a large volume of commercial art to order, all with the attention to detail of his more artistically ambitious creations.

While Bonestell was modest about his artistic pretensions, he had no shortage of self-esteem: in 1974 he painted a proposed redesign of the facade of St. Peter's Basilica better in keeping with his interpretation of Michelangelo's original intent and arranged to have it sent to the Pope who responded, in essence, “Thanks, but no thanks”.

This resplendent large-format coffee table book tells the story of Bonestell's long and extraordinarily creative career in both text and hundreds of full-colour illustrations of his work. To open this book to almost any page is to see worlds unknown at the time, rendered through the eye of an artist whose mind transported him there and sparked the dream of exploration in the generations which expanded the human presence and quest to explore beyond the home planet.

This book is out of print and used copies command a frightful premium; I bought this book when it was for sale at the cover price and didn't get around to reading all the text for seven years, hence its tardy appearance here.

November 2008 Permalink

Buckley, Christopher. The Relic Master. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN 978-1-5011-2575-1.
The year is 1517. The Holy Roman Empire sprawls across central Europe, from the Mediterranean in the south to the North Sea and Baltic in the north, from the Kingdom of France in the west to the Kingdoms of Poland and Hungary in the east. In reality the structure of the empire is so loose and complicated it defies easy description: independent kings, nobility, and prelates all have their domains of authority, and occasionally go to war against one another. Although the Reformation is about to burst upon the scene, the Roman Catholic Church is supreme, and religion is big business. In particular, the business of relics and indulgences.

Commit a particularly heinous sin? If you're sufficiently well-heeled, you can obtain an indulgence through prayer, good works, or making a pilgrimage to a holy site. Over time, “good works” increasingly meant, for the prosperous, making a contribution to the treasury of the local prince or prelate, a percentage of which was kicked up to higher-ranking clergy, all the way to Rome. Or, an enterprising noble or churchman could collect relics such as the toe bone of a saint, a splinter from the True Cross, or a lock of hair from one of the camels the Magi rode to Bethlehem. Pilgrims would pay a fee to see, touch, have their sins erased, and be healed by these holy trophies. In short, the indulgence and relic business was selling “get out of purgatory for a price”. The very best businesses are those in which the product is delivered only after death—you have no problems with dissatisfied customers.

To flourish in this trade, you'll need a collection of relics, all traceable to trustworthy sources. Relics were in great demand, and demand summons supply into being. All the relics of the True Cross, taken together, would have required the wood from a medium-sized forest, and even the most sacred and unique of relics, the burial shroud of Christ, was on display in several different locations. It's the “trustworthy” part that's difficult, and that's where Dismas comes in. A former Swiss mercenary, his resourcefulness in obtaining relics had led to his appointment as Relic Master to His Grace Albrecht, Archbishop of Brandenburg and Mainz, and also to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. These two customers were rivals in the relic business, allowing Dismas to play one against the other to his advantage. After visiting the Basel Relic Fair and obtaining some choice merchandise, he visits his patrons to exchange them for gold. While visiting Frederick, he hears that a monk has nailed ninety-five denunciations of the Church, including the sale of indulgences, to the door of the castle church. This is interesting, but potentially bad for business.

Dismas meets his friend, Albrecht Dürer, who he calls “Nars” due to Dürer's narcissism: among other things including his own visage in most of his paintings. After months in the south hunting relics, he returns to visit Dürer and learns that the Swiss banker with whom he's deposited his fortune has been found to be a 16th century Bernie Madoff and that he has only the money on his person.

Destitute, Dismas and Dürer devise a scheme to get back into the game. This launches them into a romp across central Europe visiting the castles, cities, taverns, dark forbidding forests, dungeons, and courts of nobility. We encounter historical figures including Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus), who lends his scientific insight to the effort. All of this is recounted with the mix of wry and broad humour which Christopher Buckley uses so effectively in all of his novels. There is a tableau of the Last Supper, identity theft, and bombs. An appendix gives background on the historical figures who appear in the novel.

This is a pure delight and illustrates how versatile is the talent of the author. Prepare yourself for a treat; this novel delivers. Here is an interview with the author.

May 2016 Permalink

Hagen, Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen. Bruegel: The Complete Paintings. Translated by Michael Claridge. Köln, Germany: TASCHEN, 2000. ISBN 3-8228-5991-5.

February 2003 Permalink

Miranda, Eduardo Reck. Composing Music with Computers. Oxford: Focal Press, 2001. ISBN 0-240-51567-6.

May 2004 Permalink

Rucker, Rudy. As Above, So Below. New York: Forge, 2002. ISBN 0-765-30403-1.
If you enjoy this novel as much as I did, you'll probably also want to read Rudy's notes on the book.

December 2002 Permalink

Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58567-345-5.
A paperback edition is scheduled to be published in February 2004.

October 2003 Permalink