Hardyware: The Art of David A Hardy
Text by Chris Morgan
Foreword by Stephen Baxter
(Paper Tiger, £20.00, 112 pages, hardback; published 16 August 2001.)
I became aware of David Hardy's space art in 1972 when I obtained my first copy of Challenge of the Stars, the book Hardy produced in collaboration with Patrick Moore. I had just begun experimenting with astronomical illustration, and until then the only work I'd been exposed to was that of Chesley Bonestell, whose art I'd sought out since I'd been in grade school, and Ludek Pesek, whose paintings I knew only through his appearance in a 1970 issue of National Geographic.
While all three approached their subjects with the same integrity and respect for scientific accuracy, as artists they could hardly have been more different. Bonestell's hyper-realism was so intensely compelling that it seemed to set the standard for the Solar System itself. When the lunar landscape did not turn out to be as spectacularly Alpine as Bonestell had depicted it, it really seemed as though it was the moon that was at fault, not the artist. Pesek, on the other hand, never tried to pretend that his paintings were anything other than the product of his hand. This gave his astronomical art the appearance of plein air paintings -- they possessed a casual naturalism that made them look for all the world as though they were painted from life.
Hardy's art is a little harder to pigeonhole. The paintings' brilliant colours and simple, bold designs have a decorative quality that irresistibly reminds me of the landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. They have a vigour and immediacy that is enormously appealing. Occasionally, this simplicity works against Hardy and a few of his paintings appear cartoonish ... looking rather like the backgrounds for an animated cartoon. Fortunately, these are very much in the minority and this book contains not only some very fine paintings but some of the best astronomical art done in the latter half of the twentieth century. There are, for instance, his beautifully coloured image of a terraformed Mars; a Dantesque hydrogen volcano on Titan; his cover art for Visions of Space, which is in some ways a definitive space painting; The Way It Should Have Been, Hardy's homage to hero Chesley Bonestell; Proxima's Planet; and the absolutely exquisite Iapetus: A World in a Rock. Unfortunately, one of my favorites is missing from the book -- other than as a small reproduction of its appearance on a German sf magazine cover: the painting of the seismic exploration of Saturn's moon Titan that may be one of the best paintings of Titan since Bonestell's classic 1944 depiction.
It is hard to realize that David Hardy is one of the senior members of the space-art community ... perhaps the senior member if we limit ourselves to astronomical artists. (His youthful appearance -- he looks a decade younger -- may perhaps be due to his passionate interest in rock music. Then again, perhaps not.) Born in 1936, he has been working as a professional astronomical artist for nearly fifty years, making his first sale at the age of 18 when he contributed eight black-and-white illustrations to Patrick Moore's Sun, Myths and Men ... at the same time beginning a life-long relationship with the famed astronomer.
There appears to have been no aspect of commercial art in which Hardy has not worked. After a stint in the RAF, he was employed in the Design Office of Cadbury's, where he created packaging and advertising art for the company's candies (working in a space theme whenever he could). He went freelance in the mid-1960s, and has since contributed artwork to virtually every imaginable medium, from book and magazine covers to record album sleeves and video games. He has made his name, however, not so much from his commercial work but from the nearly twenty books that he has illustrated -- many of them of his own devising.
The most outstanding of these has undoubtedly been Challenge of the Stars, a book that was created with the conscious intent of being an homage to the 1949 Chesley Bonestell-Willy Ley classic The Conquest of Space. This, as I said, was my introduction to Hardy's work and was very much a major influence on my early attempts at space art. Looking through the book again vividly recalls the excitement I felt the first time I saw these illustrations. This is perhaps one of the uniquely special qualities of Hardy's work: its ability to excite and inspire even after years of familiarity.
The subjects of Hardy's books have not been limited to astronomy. There have been Dinosaurs and Animals from the Dawn of Time and a series that included Rockets and Satellites, Light and Sight, Air and Weather and Energy and the Future. The Fires Within, a 1991 book about volcanoes, may be one of his very best works and includes some of the finest renderings of volcanoes and volcanic events I've ever seen.
In 1990, Hardy created for Paper Tiger a book called Visions of Space, a pictorial history of astronomical and space art. This oversize volume featured the work of virtually everyone who had worked in the genre for the past century, all accompanied by literate, meticulously researched and highly readable text. This book more than anything else underscored Hardy's passionate devotion not only to his art but to the entire genre of astronomical painting.
Hardyware is a handsome volume, typical of Paper Tiger's fine work, attention to detail and exquisite colour reproduction. The selection of art is profuse -- perhaps too profuse, since neither animals nor humans appear to be Hardy's forte. The text especially is fine: extensive excerpts from interviews with the artist and a comprehensive commentary by Chris Morgan together succeed in bringing Hardy vividly to life. If there is any serious fault it is in the almost useless index, which lists only the titles of Hardy's paintings. With such a rich, extensive text, it's frustrating not to be able to look up names, events or places.
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© Ron Miller 29 September 2001