I Paint The Cosmos

Published in the Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 6, Number 3, March 1998


It all starts back in the seventies. I was out of art school, an artist already exhibiting my work for over four years. I was interested in the human body’s energy force field and the way the body moved, sending unseen sparks of light and movement with every gesture and pose.

Before my interest in people, I had a two year period of drawing only water. The way it broke up round pebbles in streams of water or large waves on rocks. Water as small molecules of life force fascinated me.

During my art college period in the middle to late sixties in London, my teachers kept emphasizing that everything had already been painted by great past masters. The modern artist must use the intellect to say something new, not only paint a great painting.

I realize that although I wanted to be a traditional painter, the traditional subjects of landscapes, figurative, still life, or abstract would not be my focus. The year was 1973 and I found myself living on the grounds of the Weitzman Institute of Science in Israel. We were a tightly knit group of privileged scientists and their families. Everything was provided from Villas and swimming pools to restaurants and movie theaters…and of course the libraries and the many science buildings.

My work [as an artist] was known about, but mainly I found conversation and interest points in common to be very limited for me.

One day I was offered a part time job at the Ulman Life Science Library which held all the new magazines and periodicals. New to me, I was amazed at the quantity and quality.

It turned out that the scientists liked to find their own magazines and that left me with nothing, but time on my hands, at least for the two afternoons per week that found me there. I did what any other artist would do…I started flipping through the magazines, looking at the pictures.

It didn’t take too long before I found them. Beautiful amazing pictures, mainly photographs of the Earth, the Cosmos, the stars and the planets, black holes, galaxies and constellations.

Within six months, I had painted my first three paintings on the subject. The first "Infinity and The Egg", a painting I still own (thank god). Then came "The Empty Planet" followed by the painting "Infinity". I was offered an art show at a downtown gallery. I accepted and agreed to show twenty-two paintings and especially feature the three new paintings I had just completed about the subject of the Cosmos.

On opening night I was made two offers on "Infinity" and "The Empty Planet". I looked across my shoulder and watched the gallery owner stick sold signs on them. I rushed over and put my own sold sign on "Infinity and The Egg".

I never saw my other two paintings again. After the art show was over, the new owners took them away.

It was many years and many different artistic influences till I painted the sky again. I arrived back to America in 1979. I was again painting the human body in action and movement, but I had started to connect the environment to man and the surroundings, which started to merge and seem so that you could no longer see the separation of energy and space between them.

After looking and looking on Earth, at man, at nature, and at physical matters. I did the next best thing. I looked up.

I looked up and fell in love again. It was still there…the Cosmos as beautiful as ever, constant and waiting for me to notice it again. As I turned my artist eyes and looked up, looking harder I tried to understand more this time. One thing was sure; I wasn’t going to stop looking at the sky.

Life among the stars, life looking at the stars became my focus. The origins of our solar system and the secrets of the universe became my artistic challenge.

It was in 1984 that I painted "Between Two Worlds". A statement of our connections to all things. I was getting ready to paint my planet of choice for the next three years… Mars. Then followed by "Mars on Earth", "The Landing", and finally, in 1995, "Mars at Night." My goal was not to paint an accurate life-like Mars or even Ray Bradbury’s ancient race of Martians as in his books "The Martian Chronicles" or other science fiction influences. I was interested in pursuing the question of whether life may have existed on Mars in the painting, "The Landing". Bits of Mars, the discovery of the rock ALH8400 in Antarctica.

Whether Mars ever supported primitive forms of life or still does and the speculation that microbiological life might exist in warmer conditions far below Mar’s surface interested me.

It become clearer and clearer to me that I didn’t and don’t believe in UFOs, abductions from outer space, and spaceships from far off planets, more advanced than us.

Alien intelligence seemed to me more likely to be telepathic, a mind trip. During a recent trip to England in December of 1997, I enjoyed reading an article in the newspaper, "The Daily Mail", by the French astronomer Jacques Valee, who has been studying UFO sightings since the fifties. After 20 years, Valee reached his conclusion that aliens as seen by mankind were not from space, rather they existed in a kind of parallel dimension more like poltergeist than aliens.

It was good to find others in this "Alien Invaders", "Men in Black" world we all seem to live in. Others who believe that yes, we are alone. It’s big out there, vast space and unknown worlds that belong to us humans and if we want to make "contact", try the neighbors next door, on planet Earth.

The human species with its significance on Earth and mankind as the solo viewer of our Cosmos was the influence of the painting, "Hale-Bopp, No Spaceship Behind Me". The Hale-Bopp comet was so brilliant to see. "It’s a spiritual experience. It touches the very heart of your being," amateur astronomer Thomas Bopp, was quoted on seeing the comet which reappeared 4,200 years after its last visit. But it was the talk of our country America and the world that the Heaven’s Gate tragedy will be forever linked to what should have been a purely peaceful event. They believed Hale-Bopp would be accompanied by a gigantic alien spacecraft that would, as they put it on their website, "take us home to…the literal Heavens."

But my statement of purpose in painting "Hale-Bopp" was to show its beauty and uniqueness.

Us, human beings watching the Cosmos doing it’s thing is all there is, and that in itself is so big that we haven’t even fathomed it. Knowing that we’re going to find the universe full of unknown planets and new visual mind expanding experiences. The Cosmos’ true purpose, I believe, is to excite and inspire us.

Charles Duke from Apollo 16 walked on the moon and looked down on our planet saying, "I can’t believe the beauty of the Earth that God gave us." The first person to see the whole Earth.

It was the summer of 1997 that found me ringing the phone of NASA Ames Research Center Visitors Center curator, Jeff Cross, but it was his vision to allow me and three other artists to exhibit our work at the center in a show called "Artists Uninhibited View of Space Science". Not only did he let us in, but gave us the best spot in the house, and threw us a party.

The day we hung our work up, I’ll remember forever. I walked up and down the great hall and checked the other exhibits. The large photos of the cosmos I compared to my paintings; the colors matched! I kept thinking, I was home.

Not being a scientist I am in favor of the mystery of life. As Emily Dickinson wrote "That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet." I am currently searching for any pictures or slides taken during the event called "The Great Gathering", when Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Neptune could be seen all in one line. I do believe it would make a great painting and a new challenge.


Leah Lubin

January, 1998



Leonardo Electronic Almanac Volume 6, Number 3, March, 1998, text excerpts