The Right Stuff
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"I think of myself not as astronaut who paints, but an artist who was once an astronaut."

Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, was the first to have both his art and his “business” suit on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

Alan Bean


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Many of Mr. Bean’s fellow astronauts were evidently taken aback by his choosing the art world over private business. “I’d say 60 percent of them thought maybe I was having a midlife crisis,” Mr. Bean recalled in his book “Apollo” (1998), written with Andrew Chaikin, in which he reproduced many of his paintings.

“Every artist has the earth or their imaginations to inspire their paintings,” Mr. Bean told The New York Times in 1994. “I’ve got the earth and my imagination, and I’m the first to have the moon, too.”

Mr. Bean’s paintings drew on his recollections, interviews with fellow astronauts, photos and videos. They included a re-creation of Mr. Armstrong securing an American flag in the lunar dust; Mr. Bean standing alongside Mr. Conrad on the moon, looking toward earth; Eugene A. Cernan riding in a lunar rover during the Apollo 17 mission and the earth rising above the moon.

Working from his home in Houston, Mr. Bean strove for accuracy in presenting the astronauts’ gear and the prevailing light, but his paintings often conveyed a sense of what it was like to work on the moon rather than replicating an exact moment. He employed color liberally in place of the black, gray and white of the lunar terrain and the skies.

About 45 of Mr. Bean’s paintings were displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington in an exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk. Mr. Bean sold his paintings on his website and had fetched as much as $175,000 for a single painting by then, although he had received limited attention from critics.

Complete NY TIMES obit

journalMike CerreComment