Galileo & Mick Brownfield

A lunar eclipse occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon are in a perfect alignment, right? Well three things came together recently and there is some fugitive sendipity, some tangential connection between them so I thought I would take out my iQuill and see if I can resolve them.

You know the way that sometimes history can brush your soul for a moment as you realise a major figure from the past stood where just where you are now standing? It doesn’t always happen. My history teacher at school certainly never prompted it. David Starkey doesn’t do it for me either. Mary Beard and Joann Fletcher can. I digress . . .

There was a glorious full moon on Dartmoor recently. It was huge and heavy. My wife, Sandy and I stared at it, in the garden and in awe. By chance, a day or so later, I came across this sketch by Galileo.

I adore it. So now I must try not to gush but aside from the simple beauty of the page was the impact of the likeness – we see the exact same moon as Galileo Galilei, 1564 – 1642. Today we often see science portrayed as a sterile, cold activity (and The Man in the White Suit is a favourite film of mine) yet there is something in this sketch that speaks of simple humanity, curiosity and wonder. It’s moving. OK, I gushed. Blame the phase of the moon.

The second body to share my orbit was just last week when Mick Brownfield appeared on Facebook out of the blue. We have worked together a couple of times. He is a big cheese (like the moon). Remember those great Heinken ads? Advertising boys and girls love his work just as much as editorial does. His work is amongst the best contemporary illustration and has, well, just always been there. He seems full of that blend of youthful enthusiasm and slight melancholy I feel like that myself on many a day. The coincidence? Well you might ask. The talented Mr Brownfield’s work graced the first Pan paperback of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in it’s modest beginings. Neither of us has a copy of it – anyone? Mick has a host a utterly fab visual references to space and sci-fi in his mighty portfolio. (I wish now I had given him a more open brief. Sorry Mick.) In particular he has great affinity for the lighter-side of SF and popular culture. The wide-eyed optimism of the public appetite for early space travel, the comic-book super-powered heroes – the fun. And we share a pleasure in the space tin-toy. That mad clash between leading edge technology reproduced in gaudy print on feeble materials driven by clockwork. And, curse it, he has a collection that puts my minor shelf to shame. And Brownfield artwork now brightens up my Facebook stream. Which is nice.

And the third body? Well it was this. Last Thursday I visited the lively exhibition of 1st and 2nd year Illustration students at Plymouth University where I teach. I had a good chat with David Smart about research amongst University staff. I had often thought, just on the back-burner, that the research for Visual Communication/Graphics/Illustration was Fine Art. In some ways maybe it is but I was interested to learn that effectively it is a commitment to continuing education/exploration by staff and the sharing of that knowledge. I must admit it got me thinking. Over the hot weekend, as I mowed our grass, I found myself joining the dots from Galileo’s sketches of the moon back to Egyptian portrayals of the Sun and Moon. To romantic painters’ emotional use of Moon and Stars. The sinister symbolism of the necromancers. To Georges Méliès‘ chaotic film predictions. To Dan Dare and the paintings of Chesley Bonestell that exited me so much as a boy (and still do). The paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. And on to Hubble and digital photography and Star Trek and a creeping, lingering question of whether the power of the illustrators’ imaginings of the heavens will be lost? Replaced by photographic images of such high resolution they raise questions about time itself. Does regular exposure to CGI mean we will lose our sense of wonder? I already have with films that hire scriptwriters who do not match the scope of Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ursula le Guinn and Philip K. Dick. Art Directors need great writers.

Will all those young illustration students find the opportunities they need for their work? Do we celebrate our wealth of living illustration talent enough? Where are the retrospective exhibitions of Mick Brownfield, Chris Moore, Ian Miller, Chris Foss, Brian Sanders? A list I shall abort and leave it for a dissertation one day – it can only lead me into trouble here! And they all do way more than sci-fi. The Leyendecker and Rockwell‘s of out time?

Time for a major exhibition of the artists who have excited our imaginations and envisioned our futures? And we too, like Galileo, can look at the stars. And wonder.

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