Professor’s upgraded artwork shows new vision of 9th ‘planet’

In 1992 Steve Gildea, a professor in Merrimack College's Visual and Performing Arts Department, “Planetary Suite” —nine oil paintings representing slivers of the nine planets (at the time).

In 2015, detailed photographs of Pluto — now no longer formally a planet — sent back to Earth by the New Horizons spacecraft have allowed Gildea to upgrade the last panel in his composition. The updated work, with prints widely available online, was labelled “stunning” by the Gawker Media site earlier this year.

“At the time the original was painted, Pluto was the only planet that had not been visited by a spacecraft. It was thought (correctly as it turned out) that it might resemble Neptune’s moon Triton. I rendered a sliver of a body with the approximate surface texture of Triton,” said Gildea. “I had always thought that when we had those photos of Pluto I would like to update ‘Planetary Suite.’”

The original can be seen in Mendel Hall, above the main staircase.

Gildea retired from Merrimack in 2015, having served as head of the Digital Design Program. Much of his work involved keeping up with the always-changing discipline of computer graphics, so most of his pieces and fine art were created using digital media.

Gildea came to Merrimack College after receiving a phone call from David Raymond, professor in the Visual and Performing Arts Department.

“He told me he wanted to provide a design major for Merrimack students. He asked me to create a curriculum and research the feasibility of such a program. I was very happy to undertake the project,” said Gildea.

Through research, Gildea discovered that pre-computer graphic methodologies were still common, and felt that computer graphics would be where the future of design was going. He created a curriculum to go along with this potential new design major, with computer graphics being the focus of the program. The Faculty Senate approved the program, and Gildea was asked to come to Merrimack to implement the major.

“I confess to being something of a professional student,” he said. “Being a professor is a continuation of that occupation. It gives a person the time, the responsibility, to keep learning and thinking. It is a great career.”

Now that Gildea is retired, he said, he has more freedom to get back into painting.



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