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Frank Pietronigro: Zero-Gravity Space Artist
Frank Pietronigro's enclosed painting chamber
Pietronigro Paint Chamber
Image Credit: Yvonne Clearwater

The creativity chamber in which Frank Pietronigro would paint while in zero gravity
The Creativity Chamber installed in the KC135 turbojet.
Image credit: Frank Pietronigro, 1998.

the paint-splattered boots that Frank Pietronigro wore while painting in space
The boots worn by Pietronigro during the creation of his “drift paintings.”
Image credit: Frank Pietronigro, 1998

Pietronigro painting in space
Pietronigro actualizing his work in weightlessness.
Image credit: Frank Pietronigro, 1998. Video footage courtesy of NASA.

Frank Pietronigro was the first American artist to create ‘drift paintings,’ a form of space art in which the artist floats, weightless, in a zero gravity, three-dimensional environment while painting. As a student, Frank was inspired by abstract paintings, and by the methods of artists who used pastry bags to make three-dimensional sculptures out of paint. After graduating from art school, Frank sought innovative opportunities for zero-gravity art, and worked closely with NASA to gain access to the equipment and weightless environment he needed to explore his artistry.

With the help of staff at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Frank submitted a proposal to NASA to gain access as a passenger to fly aboard one of NASA’s KC-135 aircraft affiliated with the Reduced Gravity Research Program. On April 4, 1998, Frank took off from NASA’s Johnson Space Center aboard one of the KC-135 turbojets nicknamed “the Vomit Comet,” referring to the frequent side effect of nausea and motion sickness in a microgravity environment.

In moments of weightless during the flight, Frank squeezed paint out of frosting bags and let it float into the air and make randomly make contact with the sheets of clear plastic that served both as his enclosing compartment and as his canvas. Frank considered the canvas a ‘research document’ that captured the results of the paint as it drifted and floated onto the surface of the canvas. The plastic sheeting enclosure which served as his canvas was tethered to the front end of the plane, and allowed Pietronigro to create a completely unique environment in which to create this zero-g art. He named the finished work “Document Number 34.”

Pietronigro’s work with art in weightless environments did not stop there. In 2003, he became a co-founder of the Zero Gravity Arts Consortium, an international space art organization committed to increasing artists’ access to microgravity environments including parabolic flights and the International Space Station. By giving artists an opportunity to work in zero-g Frank wishes to not only create a new medium of space art but to also enrich the culture of space exploration. Ultimately, Frank works to bridge the gap between the arts and science in space exploration by allowing artists and scientists to work together on the same missions, as he believes that both groups can benefit from the other’s perspective.

Read and See More:

→ Frank Pietronigro writes about drift painting for www.olats.org
→ Frank Pietronigro's self-captured video creating a drift painting in microgravity, shown at Yuri's Night 2008
Fine art paintings by Frank Pietronigro

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