News / USA

Artist is Drawn to Nature's Oddities

Alexis Rockman's paintings depict nature, both real and imagined

'Manifest Destiny' depicts the Brooklyn waterfront 300 years into the future. There is no sign of humanity, but plenty of marine life swimming in the ruins of two bridges and seagulls flying overhead against an orange sky.
'Manifest Destiny' depicts the Brooklyn waterfront 300 years into the future. There is no sign of humanity, but plenty of marine life swimming in the ruins of two bridges and seagulls flying overhead against an orange sky.

Multimedia

One of the first contemporary artists to address subjects such as biodiversity and global warming was Alexis Rockman. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has organized the artist's first retrospective.

With images of tropical plants, insects and amphibians on the walls, it is clear that Rockman has a love of nature but his artist's eye is drawn less to nature's beauty and more to its oddities.

"I think frogs are charming and magical and wonderful, and turtles," the artist says, adding he is "attracted to things that are unlovable."

Inspired by natural history

His paintings feature the type of animals one might encounter in a natural history museum, which isn't surprising.

"His mother worked at the American Museum of Natural History for many years," says curator Joanna Marsh. "As a boy he spent many hours in that museum absorbing the displays, the wall murals."

That clearly can be seen in many of Rockman's early works, especially his monumental 1992 painting, "Evolution," a fantasy landscape of imagined and real animals past and present.

"I started out thinking of it as a chart," Rockman says. "That is generally how I organize information. It starts out as a series, a list of names or things that might happen. And then it is like decorating a Christmas tree really."

A trip to Guyana in 1994 inspired works that were closer to scientific paintings of flora and fauna that he saw in the rainforest. But by the time he returned from that trip, his focus was on man's impact on nature. "I started to think about my feelings for the things I was painting and started to feel active and dynamic."

Sometimes he uses humor to make a point. "Ready to Rumble" shows a trio of masked animals at a landfill. "I was for some reason in the mood to do something a little more lighthearted, so I turned a turkey vulture, a Norway rat and a domestic cat into these characters," Rockman says. "I saw them as superheroes of the dump."

'The Conversation' (2001, detail) was inspired by Clint Eastwood's film 'White Hunter Black Heart.' The artist put himself in the role of the hunter.
'The Conversation' (2001, detail) was inspired by Clint Eastwood's film 'White Hunter Black Heart.' The artist put himself in the role of the hunter.

Other times, his approach is a little more subtle, as it is in "The Conversation," which depicts a meeting between modern man and an ancient ancestor, Australopithecine. The figures, seated in a tent are in shadow, but it's clear the contemporary figure is holding a rifle. "It's about hunting and hoping the protagonist will do the right thing."

His message is bleak and clear in a work he started in 2000 and completed nearly four years later - the 7-plus-meter long mural titled "Manifest Destiny." The painting depicts the Brooklyn waterfront 300 years in the future. There is no sign of humanity, but plenty of marine life swimming in the ruins of two bridges and seagulls flying overhead against an orange sky.

Artist Alexis Rockman has been depicting the natural world for more than 20 years.
Artist Alexis Rockman has been depicting the natural world for more than 20 years.

Focus on climate change

Curator Joanna Marsh says the mural is one of Rockman's first paintings to focus specifically on climate change. More followed, including a series of iconic American landscapes like the U.S. Capital, the Hollywood sign and the Presidential portraits at Mount Rushmore, impacted by climate change.

It was his treatment of climate change that led to the exhibition title, "A Fable for Tomorrow." Marsh says she borrowed it from the opening chapter of environmentalist Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. "She describes a mythic town, 'where all life seems to live in harmony,' and I am quoting Carson. But over time, as the result of chemical pesticides the town shows signs of death."

Carson based her predictions on scientific information, which "is exactly what I saw Alexis Rockman doing in his work," the curator says.

Rockman says the older he gets the more skeptical he is about whether humans will solve the problem before it is too late. "Life isn't going anywhere. It is where humans want to be in the configuration that is up to the humans."

But he says the exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art museum gives him hope. "Because it shows there is a level of consciousness and a willingness to put challenging work on the walls of a governmental institution."

The exhibit covers 24 years of Rockman's career. At just 48 years old, he has many more years to challenge people with his art.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid