Elon Musk’s SpaceX Commissioned a Street Artist to Create Indestructible Gold Paintings as Décor for Its First Trip to the International Space Station

Each work by Tristan Eaton comes with a protective sleeve, an artist statement, and a greeting to ISS astronauts.

Tristan Eaton, Human Kind (2020). Courtesy of the artist and SpaceX.
Tristan Eaton, Human Kind (2020). Courtesy of the artist and SpaceX.

Tristan Eaton, a Los Angeles street artist and designer, has work in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. But he’s about to join a much more exclusive club of artists this weekend when SpaceX sends its first manned flight into outer space with some of his art on board.

Eaton created a series of indestructible, two-sided gold, brass, and aluminum artworks for the historic flight, which was rescheduled for Saturday after its initial May 27 launch date was postponed due to weather. When the shuttle, called Crew Dragon, makes it out of Earth’s atmosphere to the International Space Station (ISS), it will be the first time in a decade when American astronauts have gone up, and the first time a privately owned spacecraft takes them there. 

The street artist will join a very, very rarified group of artists including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Trevor Paglen to actually send their artwork into space.

“As an artist I try to look at the world with a big picture view,” Eaton wrote on Instagram this week. “No one gets a bigger view of our world than our brave astronauts on the ISS.” 

Each plate is double sided—a gesture meant to “represent the duality of Human Kind, our past and our future,” according to the artist—and features a variety of symbols: an outstretched hand and a chimp with its child, demonstrating nuclear fission; a suite of unfurling flowers and a bird in flight; a smiley face and a peace sign and the stars and stripes of the American flag. 

“When SpaceX asked me to create art to join these astronauts in space, I wanted to make something inspirational,” he explained. “Looking down from space to see all of Human Kind together on this tiny planet might remind you how much history and potential we have. Yet we have so much further to go.”

Tristan Eaton, <i>Human Kind</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist and SpaceX.

Tristan Eaton, Human Kind (2020). Courtesy of the artist and SpaceX.

Each artwork is designed for one of the five astronauts that will be up at the ISS, including the two Americans set to go up this weekend. They come in protective sleeves with a front pocket containing the artist statement and a greeting to the astronauts. The plates are set to return to Earth with Crew Dragon in three-to-four months.  

Eaton has been making street art since he was 18 years old. Today, his pop-collage murals adorn buildings around the world. He made headlines earlier this month when he unveiled a massive public painting honoring nurses in Midtown Manhattan.

“With kindness, hope and science, Human Kind has changed the world many times over,” said Eaton. “For a better future, we can do it again.”


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