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Rare Medium 

A dash of moondust makes the difference in the paintings of former astronaut Alan Bean.

Self-portrait of a spaceman (Alan Bean, far right).
  • Self-portrait of a spaceman (Alan Bean, far right).
Alan Bean wants to be known as an artist who once walked on the moon, not as an astronaut who knows how to paint. Since retiring from the NASA space program in 1981, he's been on a "self-assigned mission" to create as many as six paintings a year, most of which depict scenes from his travels into space.

He has painted nearly 140 pieces that document his historic space mission aboard Apollo 12, which culminated on November 19, 1969, when he became the fourth man to walk on the moon. Four years later, as the commander of Skylab II, he set a world record by traveling 24.4 million miles during a 59-day flight.

On Saturday, January 19, Bean will help launch an exhibition of his prints, posters, and books at Gallery One in Mentor, where he will present a slide show at 1 p.m., followed by a meet-and-greet session from 2 to 5 p.m. "It took me a long time to become a good artist," explains Bean, who first put brush in hand 40 years ago.

"At first, my paintings were nothing but blacks, whites, and grays. When I painted flowers, I knew a bud, a leaf, a petal, a stem, but nobody was interested in that. Then someone asked, 'Why don't you paint the moon?' I knew so much more about that."

In 1985, while sitting at his desk in his home studio in Houston, Bean glanced at the nametag and patches that were once attached to his spacesuit. It then dawned on him: He could scrape off the infinitesimal particles of dirt and dust from the moon's Ocean of Storms and sprinkle them into the paint. And they literally have been a part of his work ever since.

"I've never heard of another artist doing anything like it," he says. "I mean, you don't see any cowboy artist throwing horseshit onto his paintings."

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