"Out of This World," an exhibition of contemporary space art, is on display at the Penn College Gallery until April 19.
The exhibition features the work of several artists, including Ron Miller and Michael Carrol, two important figures in the space art community.
Carroll and Miller said they were influenced by the advent of the space program during the 1950s and '60s.
A?painting by space artist Michael Carroll is shown. Carroll is one of the featured artists in the Gallery at Penn College’s “Out of This World”?exhibition, which will be on display until April 19.
"I think that made a huge difference," Miller said. "Space permeated the culture when I was a kid. There were rocket-shaped toys, food, cars, everything. My parents bought me space books and I just devoured them. I read those books to the detriment of things I should have been studying. In my earliest memories, I'm drawing rockets."
Carroll had a similar experience.
"I did my first painting when I was 11," he said. "Two years later, Apollo 8 returned with all of those beautiful pictures of the moon. I did a painting based on one of their snapshots from the far side of the moon and I was hooked on space art from then on. It was an amazing time. We were beginning to see other planets as real worlds."
Carroll went on to do illustrations for NASA, working on the Galileo Project.
"It was a dream come true when I started working for NASA, because to me those people are heroes in many ways and certainly trailblazers," Carroll said.
Another career highlight came in 2007 when one of Carroll's paintings was selected to ride aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which resides, at present, on the Martian North Pole. Carroll's art is, quite literally, out of this world.
"The lander is almost like a little time capsule for people who eventually make it to Mars," Carroll said. "There are 33 paintings from around the world, novels about space, poetry and music. I have a painting on Mars, but I've had no offers from Martian art collectors ... yet."
Miller started out as a commercial illustrator before he heard about the construction of a new National Air and Space Museum.
"I heard that the museum was going to have a planetarium," Miller said. "So, I wrote and asked them if they planned to have an artist. I talked them into it, really. I sort of created myself a job. My wife and I packed up and moved to Washington, D.C., and I've been doing space art ever since."
Miller was the art director of the Air and Space Museum's planetarium until 1978, when he left to work full-time as a freelance artist.
Both Carroll and Miller said the "Out of This World" exhibition is a unique experience for them. Their art isn't often shown in a gallery setting. More often, it ends up in national publications like TIME, Newsweek, National Geographic, Scientific American, Harper's and Smithsonian.
"There've been very few exhibitions of space art anywhere," Miller said. "This exhibition is really special in that regard. The International Association of Astronomical Artists has hosted a few exhibitions, but I think this is the first time space art has been exhibited outside the professional realm of the IAAA. It's great to have outside recognition of the space art genre."
The "Out of This World" exhibition was originally developed by the Hearst Art Gallery in collaboration with the physics and astronomy departments of St. Mary's College of California.
"They've done a wonderful job of gathering some really neat space art, as well as showing the science behind it," Carroll said. "For astronomical artists that's a very important component. We strive to do beautiful work, but at the same time we want to make it scientifically accurate."
Carroll and Miller said their work is a delicate balance between science and imagination.
"I think for space art to be good it has to be good art in terms of mechanics, layout, color, balance and value," Carroll said. "But we are also constrained by scientific knowledge. In a lot of cases, the science has gaps that need to be filled in by some guesswork. That's where your creativity comes in. There's always something fun to guess about and nature is full of surprises."
According to the artists, space art acts like a bridge between the scientist and the layman.
"It's fun to take the science and translate it into something that non-scientific people can understand," Carroll said. "In a way, we're like diplomats between two communities: the researchers, on the one hand, and the public on the other."
Miller said space art has the power to stir the public's imagination and inspire us to undertake space exploration.
"It's one thing to say, 'We need to go to Mars because we'll learn this or we'll learn that or for scientific knowledge,' " Miller said. "That doesn't mean a lot to the average person on the street. But if you show them a painting of a canyon as wide as the United States, they think 'Whoa! I'd like to see that! Let's go!' They can grasp that and it makes these places seem real. We're not throwing away a bag of money to send a rocket to some abstraction. Hopefully, I and my fellow space artists can help people interpret the aerial NASA photos. They can look at the space art and then look at the photograph and understand what they're seeing, understand what that cluster of shadows is or what that dark spot is."
Carroll spoke about the longstanding relationship between art and exploration. "When you look back through history, art has always had a fascinating connection not only with science, but also with exploration," Carroll said. "Lewis and Clark brought artists with them on their expedition. Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt did paintings that helped convince congress to establish the first two National Parks in Yellowstone and Yosemite."
As long as there's been space art, there's been a symbiotic relationship between art and science. "A piece of space art tells you in a glance what the scientific thinking was at the time," Carroll said. "It's like a little window into the science of the past or present. To me, what makes space art so exciting is the marriage of art and science. It's such a dynamic, fertile relationship."
This makes sense. Ultimately, artists and scientists are engaged in the same endeavour: exploration.
Both professions require enormous imaginative powers; it's part their job description. After all, the scientist and the artist have to be able to imagine the unimaginable.
For more information about the exhibition, visit www.pct.edu/gallery.