Friday, January 23, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Chesley Bonestell, Master of Space Art.

Half a century before the Hubble Space Telescope existed Chesley Bonestell was painting his own vision of what could be waiting for the first human explorers to reach far-flung worlds of outer space.
Born in 1888 in San Francisco, Bonestell had been interested in astronomy from his childhood, and fascinated by telescopic views of Moon and planets. His early training, was in architecture, it ceased when he dropped out of studies in his third year. The precision and detail in his artwork reflects his early training as an architect.

Bonestell found employment with several architectural firms, became part of teams responsible for design of the Golden Gate Bridge and New York's Chrysler Building. He designed posters and illustrations for travel firms and for magazines in the USA and in Britain.

 Poster by Chesley Bonestell

Travel poster by Bonestell from his time in Britain

During the 1940s/50s he also worked as a matte artist to produce special effects and matte paintings for films, including Orson Welles's Citizen Kane , The Horn Blows at Midnight, Destination Moon , When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds, and Conquest of Space.

In August 1950 Collier's magazine cover illustrated by Bonestell depicted an atomic bomb attack on New York, further illustrations were carried inside in the article titled "Hiroshima U.S.A.".
(See Smithsonian website HERE)

From SF Encyclopedia
"In depicting planetary landscapes and predicted space vehicles, his style was a photographic realism, showing great attention to correctness of perspective and scale in conformity with scientific knowledge, if not always the latest such knowledge: many of his depictions of the planets – from a solid, volcanic surface on Jupiter to canals on Mars – were fairly old-fashioned even at the time he created them, and his craggy, alpine lunar landscapes proved to look nothing at all like the real thing. His paintings of Saturn as seen from the surfaces of its moons are understandably regarded as classics. But, more than that, his work held great beauty and drama in its stillness and depth. Many book lovers of the post-World War Two generation may attribute their fascination with space exploration as much to Bonestell's paintings as to their reading of space fiction or nonfiction, and Gary Westfahl has suggested that his dogged determination to follow scientific principles in his artistic creations was a key influence on the development of Hard SF."

From Outer Space Art Gallery
Along with cosmic landscapes, Bonestell painted scenes of space exploration on the moon, Mars and beyond, as well as spacecraft resembling the multi-stage rockets that would transport man beyond the realm of his own planet.

Wernher von Braun, the German rocketry genius and chief architect of the massive Saturn V booster that catapulted men to the moon, wrote about Bonestell: "My file cabinet is filled with sketches of rocket ships I had prepared to help him in his artwork -- only to have them returned to me with penetrating detailed questions or blistering criticism of some inconsistency or oversight."

Like Merlin the magician of Camelot, Bonestell seemed to be living backwards in time. He had an uncanny sense of what alien landscapes looked like and the design of the vehicles that hadn't been invented yet. Bonestell died in 1987, at the ripe age of 99. But his art and influence continues to delight and inspire.
"Chesley Bonestell's pictures are far more than beautiful, etherial paintings of worlds beyond," praised von Braun. "They present the most accurate portrayal of those faraway heavenly bodies that modern science can offer."

There are some good-sized images of Bonestell's artwork at MELT, here. A brief video about him is available at Chicago Tonight. More book and magazine covers by Bonestell HERE.


Chesley Bonestell was born on 1 January 1888 in San Francisco, California. No time of birth is known, chart is set for 12 noon.

First thought: "The animals went in two by two...." except they're planets - 5 pairs! There's nothing very significant in that observation though.

His Mars conjunct Uranus in Libra are square to his Sun, challenging the "feet on the ground" and scientific solidity of Capricorn. I'm bearing in mind that Mr Bonestell set out initially to become an architect which fits his Sun and Mercury in Capricorn better than a painter of wildly imaginative space paintings, but that square aspect involving Uranus, planet of all that is futuristic and unexpected, makes an important difference. I'm thinking that he was, perhaps, also responding to the pervading astrological Airy "atmosphere" of the 1940s, when Saturn and Uranus transited Gemini, Neptune in Libra.

The Yod is mixing Neptune/Pluto (creativity and hidden things) with Saturn and its relationship to the Capricorn Mercury at the Yod's apex (solidity and science). An input of Neptune's imagination and vision could easily seep through to soften/irritate any remaining architectural aims Bonestell might have had, bringing in a desire to imagine and dream of what's out there and what's to come, rather than simply following his interest in straight astronomy.

His natal Venus (planet of the arts) is conjunct expansive Jupiter in Scorpio, and opposes Neptune in Taurus. There's a push-pull going on between Earthy creativity, straightforward artwork (which he did as well as space art), and portraying something more extreme, something hidden from our everyday eyes.

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mike said...

It's interesting to me that he would drop-out of school in his third year, only to work in the same field he didn't obtain a degree in. He was apparently drawn to the artistic side of architecture than the blueprint side.

The only other that I can add to your astrology is that he has Venus-Mars and Sun-Saturn in mutual reception, with both mutual receptions having influence on creativity and artistic expression. All of his planetary duets (Moon?) communicate with one another by angle or reception, too, and the yod you indicate pulls it all together.

I was in my early youth in the 1950s and the depictions of planets, space, and rocketships, were fascinating to me. All of those hokey scifi movies of that era, with cheesy special effects, made it seem that we'd be colonizing Mars by 1965...LOL.

Twilight said...

mike ~ It does seem strange that he'd go as far as 3rd year, then drop out - I couldn't find any indication as to the reaon. I suppose, as you say, the seduction of art (and space) must have had a strong pull for him. Perhaps he had an early job offer he couldn't afford to ignore.

It's a neat chart, I thought - neat as in tidy, not the American "neat". ;-)
Pity we don't have a birth time.

His name wasn't familiar to me at all before I researched this post.
I probably had my head in a different genre of books during Bonestell's heyday.

LB said...

Twilight ~ Thanks for shining light on another talented artist! Some of these artists' abilities and inspirations seem other-worldly, Chesley Bonestell's gifts fall in that category. In addition to everything else you've mentioned, I can see how the Jupiter in Scorpio/Neptune in Taurus aspect might've figured in.

I'm too tired to do much interpreting today (Moon Void-of-Course in Pisces???), but the mutual receptions mike mentioned make sense too. I started looking for them, but then decided to check comments and there they were.:)


mike ~ Just so you know, I responded to the very thoughtful comment you left me on yesterday's post.:) Thanks.

Twilight said...

LB ~ He was a visionary, wasn't he - one with the talent to share his visions pictorially - envisioning scenes of the future ahead of even our current century - maybe even past the next century too at the rate space travel is progressing.

Thanks for your additional astro-thoughts.

anyjazz said...

The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell was a book I checked out from the public library regularly as a teen. The color illustrations of far away planets were stunning and apparently unforgettable to a 13-14 year old. Until today, I had not seen any of the paintings for decades.

I read every bit of science fiction our little library had and often checked their accuracy against Bonestell's detailed paintings.

I can credit Bonestell with contributions to my interest in many things: art, space science, writing and photography.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Good to know, anyjazz!
If our, probably even smaller, library carried any sci-fi other than H.G. Wells' novels, I didn't find it. H.G. Wells was a good grounding though - but minus great illustrations such as Bonestell's.