When The Stars Are Right - The Crab Nebula in Taurus

Richard Maier

Los Angeles, United States

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I hadn’t done a black & white series in a while, so for Winter 2012 I thought I would take the opportunity to create a monochrome set of images. As often happens, things didn’t turn out as planned – while I did end up making the series in black & white, the “alternate” color versions ended up stealing the show.

I first found a wonderful set of constellation illustrations by the 17th century astronomer Johannes Hevelius. While his name is probably unfamiliar to most, you’ve almost certainly seen his work before, as they are some of the most beautiful and popular illustrations of the constellations over the last four centuries. Then I paired Hevelius’ illustrations with gorgeous images from several amazing telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.

Apparently believing all the stars to lie on a single celestial sphere, Hevelius depicted all the constellations as he thought they would appear from somewhere ‘outside the sphere’, which means all the stars and constellations are depicted as mirror images in his illustrations. Rather than try to correct this, I accepted this as a given and used mirror-image versions of the telescope photos. (So if you were wondering why the constellations and nebulae are backwards, now you know!)

Since I was working on these images in mid-December 2012, I was hearing all the silly noise about the upcoming “Mayan Apocalypse”. I’m also a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, in whose fiction the malevolent “Great Old Ones” return when “the stars are right”… If you’re waiting on an Apocalypse with astronomical and numerological connections, yet with uncertain consequences, you could do much worse than invoke Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and the Great Old Ones. To bring in the suggestions of tentacles and the “strange geometries”, I brought in two series of Artmatic images that seemed to fit the bill.

Incorporates an image from Johannes Hevelius’ Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia and an image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Artwork Comments

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