NEW YORK -- Ed Belbruno lives in two worlds. Both a mathematician who spent years developing innovative trajectories at NASA and an accomplished painter, Belbruno seems to inhabit the space (opens in new tab) between science and art.
Until the end of this week (on Nov. 22), you can check out some of Belbruno's artwork (opens in new tab), which is featured as part of the Constellations in Color and Form (opens in new tab) science and space-inspired exhibition at Agora Gallery in New York City. The paintings Belbruno has on display in the exhibit are recent, from the past couple of years, he told Space.com at a Nov. 14 screening of "Painting the Way to the Moon," a documentary about Belbruno's journey (opens in new tab) through science and art, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (who appears in the documentary).
Compared with some of his past work, this collection is strikingly abstract, while also being simplistic and powerful. "Typically my work is bold, it's one of my hallmarks," he said. "It's gotten much more abstract. I've gotten much more into using black: using black, however, with very bright colors of contrast."
He added that he hasn't changed his artistic style and direction intentionally, it just evolved naturally. "I don't define the direction, the direction defines me," he said.
Belbruno's journey at both NASA and as an artist has been unconventional, to say the least. After hating math as a child, he cites a frightening drug experience (which he would not recommend, and which landed him in the hospital and on bed rest) as the beginning of his love of mathematics.
With his career at NASA, he pushed the boundaries of spaceflight by developing a unique ballistic trajectory that could get an object into lunar orbit with minimal fuel. During this time, however, Belbruno was also painting. In the documentary and at the gallery event, he even explained how drawing and painting helped him to actually devise the trajectory, as he experimented on a canvas with swirling, daring lines to connect the moon and Earth.
Space and art
Belbruno is not the first to connect space and art. From Van Gogh's famous "Starry Night" painting to NASA astronaut Nicole Stott's (opens in new tab) "The Wave," which was the first watercolor painting done in space, there has been a cosmic connection to the arts for countless years.
But, while every artist might not have an inclination to dabble in science and math, Belbruno suggests that, just like he has found, those working in scientific fields could benefit from getting creative.
According to him, if people working in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) fields "had the desire to do it [get into the arts], and wanted to do it and really felt that passion to do it, and did it with the intention of having it help their science work, it would do that."
It certainly did for Belbruno — at least he describes it this way. "The art, I think, is tapping a lot more creativity per second than the math is. So, when you take a break with the math for the art and go back to the math or the science, whatever you're doing, you have insights you never would have had before," he said.
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