In one of Alexis Rockman’s paintings, a kracken-like creature reaches out of the depths to destroy a shoreside factory. In another, a futuristic scene depicts a decayed civilization, a sunken bridge in the distance, and a seal peering through polluted green waters. Through his varied collections, which range from apocolyptic to anthropologic, Rockman constructs naturalist scenes as well as lost worlds, cryptic warnings of impending change, through vividly colored paintings that depict sometimes startling scenes.
This weekend, Maui’s art fans will get a chance to spend the evening with the artist and naturalist. Saturday, October 27 at 7pm, Rockman will present in The Green Room at the McCoy Studio Theater of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. The prolific artist, who has exhibits in museums around the country and consulted on the film Life of Pi, lives and works in NYC and was invited to Maui by the Merwin Conservancy for its ongoing Green Room Salon Series. Following his presentation, there will be a reception with a book signing, book fair, and refreshments.
Rockman’s art, which depicts “a natural history psychedelia,” is achingly vivid and timely. I caught up with Rockman while he was en route to Maui, in Ohio at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art where he was opening his show, “Great Lake Cycle.” We talked about his presentation at the MACC, the problem of humans, and his love of isolated ecosystems.
Rockman is a world traveler who is influenced by scientists, historians, anthropologists, and ecologists throughout his travels to places like Tasmania, Antarctica, and Madagascar. Islands are of special interest to him. “I love how each island has its own biodiversity, and has its own history, since it’s been isolated from the rest of the world. Things evolved there that are completely unique. Hawai‘i… is one of the great examples of biodiversity. I’m fascinated by the history of Hawai‘i from an ecological perspective, and one of the things I’m going to be talking about is several pieces of art that relate to Hawai‘i but also how I approach other parts of the world like Tasmania, Madagascar, and Long Island.”
Alexis’ art, which includes field drawings as well as prehistoric and post-human landscapes, works at the intersection of art and science. “I think it’s very difficult to talk about ecology at this point in history without taking into account how humans are somewhat of a problem, and not necessarily a positive effect on this planet,” said Rockman, when I asked him about some of the darker themes in his work. “There’s not many places in our culture that are willing to really face the consequences of that. One of my responsibilities as an artist, because I’m in a position to pretty much say what I like and I’m not challenged by corporate or institutional powers, I’m able to put things in my painting and have a public discourse that not many people to do.”
Rockman arrived to this ideology through the evolution of his career. “The more I learned about the history of ecology, the more I was aware of the human place in that, and some of the darker and unspoken threats that were fascinating. Also, I very much abhor secrets and the denial of facts, and we’re dealing with that more and more with our current administration. I think it’s more and more my job to point out some of the things that are the problem in terms of hurting biodiversity.”
Rockman is looking forward to talking about these issues during his visit to The Green Room, during which he will present selected works and highlight his engagement with ecological change. At the heart of what he is trying to do is breach complex and trying topics through his medium: “I try to encourage people to appreciate all the biodiversity that’s around them.”
Alexis Rockman in the Green Room
Maui Arts and Cultural Center
1 Cameron Way, Kahului
Saturday, Oct. 27. 7pm
$25; $10/Students (with ID)
Photos by Dorothy Spears