If you’ve ever taken a look at the contemporary art world and thought to yourself, “There sure seems to be a dearth of space-tourist paintings,” you’re in luck. Last week at his New York City studio, Peter Max, the American Pop artist whose style influenced the Beatles’s iconic Yellow Submarine film, unveiled his latest project: 16 DayGlo portraits of Anousheh Ansari.
Ansari made headlines last month when an eight-day stint at the International Space Station earned her the title of first female space tourist (additionally: the first Iranian, the first Muslim woman, the first to blog about it, the first to shoot homemade videos and post them online… you get the idea).
Max says he’s been interested in space since his encounter with a Tibetan astronomer when he was a child living in China. When he met Buzz Aldrin (whom he has also painted), he thought to himself, “Oh my god, I’m standing here with a man who stood on the moon.” Now Max has moved on to his next muse: “I am in awe of her. What inspired me was Ansari—that she had the will, the nerve, the wherewithal.”
Later I cornered Ansari at the snack table. She was awfully nice about my interrupting her coffee break and told me she liked how the paintings captured the happiness she felt in space. In each of the 16 portraits hanging on the wall, Ansari looks ecstatic—a marked change from the discomfort induced by the cameras, writers and handlers with her in Max’s studio back on terra firma. “The whole time I was there, it was a joy. I certainly miss being in space,” she says. “I look up at the sky and think about the two people still there. I keep thinking about what they’re doing now. It’s something hard.” —Abby Seiff