Nicole Finger

Local artist Nicole Finger stands in front of her piece “Freedom,” which is of her son Max on Palmyra Peak. The painting is heading to the moon as part of the Lunar Codex project. (Courtesy photo)

Standing atop Palmyra Peak at midday when the moon is out, you almost feel you could reach out and touch it. Now, Palmyra Peak is heading to the moon in painted form. The painting, “Freedom,” by local artist Nicole Finger, depicts her son Max Finger on Palmyra in vivid detail. The image offers the viewer a powerful incantation of the joy and liberation we can experience in the mountains.

The piece is part of an online exhibition, “Facing the Universe: the Cosmos Within” sponsored by the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art. All works from the exhibition will be included in the Peregrine Collection — a curation of thousands of art pieces by more than 1,200 artists and one A.I. The collection will be launching to the moon in November 2021 as part of the Lunar Codex, an Artists on the Moon project. Curated by Dr. Samuel Peralta, the full Lunar Codex includes a wide array of digitized artistic expressions, including art, poetry anthologies, novels, music, screenplays and more.

The majority of artwork being sent to the moon is from exhibitions coordinated by Didi Mendez, creator of the contemporary art publication PoetsArtists. When Mendez initially curated the show “Facing the Universe: the Cosmos Within,” she named it without any knowledge of the possibility of a lunar mission. Serendipitously, it was a perfect fit.

“When I heard that they chose that exhibition, including my piece, I was over the moon,” Finger said.

Delivery will be by Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander, through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. NASA awarded the flight contract to Astrobiotic, and the mission will mark the first-ever commercial trip to the moon. The Lunar Lander will also transport experimental equipment tasked with gathering data to pave the way for astronauts, including the first woman in history to travel to the moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis program. In Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis is the twin sister to god Apollo. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission made history as the first crewed mission to the moon in 1969.

Fittingly, the Lunar Codex will also be the first time women’s art is going to the moon. Currently, the only paintings inhabiting the lunar surface are artworks by six prominent mid-century male artists. Delivered in 1969, the paintings, including one by Andy Warhol, are etched on a ceramic wafer and represent the abstract expressionism movement.

By contrast, the majority of paintings assembled for this year’s delivery are in the style of figurative realism. Figurative realism is a genre of painting defined by the realistic depiction of the human form. Often overshadowed by abstract art throughout the past 50 years, it has been experiencing a resurgence.

“It was sort of a forgotten art genre, but it is making an exciting comeback,” Finger said.

As the first commercial mission and the first women’s art to land on the moon, the Lunar Codex and the larger Artemis program honor the past while transitioning space travel into an exciting new era.

Finger’s paintings too embody transition. Long fascinated with the inner worlds of the teenage mind on the cusp of adulthood, Finger often uses her children Samantha and Max as muses, attempting to distill and understand the emotions they are going through. Nationally recognized for her evocative, bold style, Finger uses oil paint to create rich texture, while also pursuing a high level of realistic detail. In “Freedom,” Finger explores Max’s multi-layered relationship with the mountains and himself.

As a champion mogul skier, Max’s life often centered on skiing.

“He lived and breathed it his entire life, it teaches all these life lessons and is also really intense,” Finger said.

After bouncing back from a string of injuries, Max had been planning to take a gap year between high school and college to compete. COVID-19 put a halt to his dreams. With competitions canceled, he was challenged like many teens to reorient during the pandemic. He’ll be heading off to college in Bozeman, Montana, next year instead.

The piece is a tribute to Max’s deep passion for the mountains.

“It’s past winning awards, it's about being in the mountains and being free. And about the wanting at that age for autonomy. It’s such a transition. You’re becoming yourself. You’re exploring.” Finger said.

That same profound wanderlust drives humans to explore space.

“Our hope is that future travelers who find these time capsules will discover some of the richness of our world today,” Peralta said of the Lunar Codex. “It speaks to the idea that, despite wars and pandemics and climate upheaval, humankind found time to dream, time to create art.”

Like many pint-sized dreamers, Max said that he wanted to be an astronaut at his Telluride preschool graduation ceremony. Now thanks to “Freedom,” Max and Telluride will have a place on the moon.

“Going to the moon. What could be more freeing than that? Gazing at the moon will hold a new internal space for our family, knowing that Max is up there,” Finger said.