Quantcast

Beauty and Despair Collide in These Murals of the Great Lakes

Popular
Cascade, 2015. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Commissioned by Grand Rapids Art Museum with funds provided by Peter Wege, Jim and Mary Nelson, John and Muriel Halick, Mary B. Loupee, and Karl and Patricia Betz. Grand Rapids Art Museum, 2015 - 19. Alexis Rockman

By Clara Chaisson

With loons and trout alongside allegorical monsters, the fantastical murals at the center of artist Alexis Rockman's new exhibition don't just look like a dream sequence; they are a dream come true.


Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle emerged out of a 2013 phone call with Rockman's longtime friend and collaborator Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where the series will make its debut on Jan. 27 2018. "[Dana] asked me if I had any dream projects up my sleeve," Rockman said. "I looked at the map and thought of the Great Lakes."

Pioneers, 2017. Oil and acrylic on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches.Alexis Rockman and Sperone Westwater, New York

Though he was born and raised in New York City, Rockman said Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior appeal to him because they are both natural wonders and human-made disaster zones. These massive freshwater lakes—the world's largest by surface area—formed from glacial movement and melting during the Pleistocene. They now hold 20 percent of the Earth's freshwater and provide drinking water for 40 million people, but threats ranging from massive algal blooms and industrial pollution to rapidly warming temperatures and voracious invasive species now plague these vital resources. "It's a perfect cocktail of awe, despair, and melancholy," Rockman said.

Rockman tells the lakes' story through five large-scale paintings, each measuring 6 by 12 feet, beginning with the Pleistocene, exploring the present day, and imagining the future (which includes opportunities for recovery and preservation). The exhibit also features six large watercolors and 28 field drawings made from organic materials collected from Great Lakes sites.

Spheres of Influence, 2016. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman

The paintings abound with Rockman's unique style, which combines his passion for natural history and landscape painting with a dark, hallucinatory flair. He refers to this particular blend of influences as "natural-history psychedelia." Director Ang Lee was so taken with Rockman's approach that he asked the artist to create visual inspiration for his 2012 film Life of Pi.

For his latest work, using an itinerary developed by the Grand Rapids museum, Rockman set out on a tour of eight U.S. states and Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes region. Along with extensive reading, his studies included fishing trips, a circumnavigation of Lake Michigan, and meetings with museum directors and biologists. Rockman had previously painted the lakes in the 1980s, becoming familiar with many of their woes, such as their infamous zebra mussel infestation. But his latest research introduced him to new horror shows, like tiny spiny water fleas that gunk up fishing gear and botulism outbreaks that paralyze and kill birds. The Great Lakes "are under incredible pressure from so many things, it's just mind-boggling," said Rockman.

Watershed, 2015. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman

Each painting in the series is accompanied by a map key that that identifies the species and references at play. "As I have worked on this project for the past five years, the environmental issues facing the lakes have become even more critical," Rockman said. "My expedition in the region, observations of the area, and conversations with experts have helped me tell a story that is, I hope, a compelling call for action on behalf of this natural treasure."

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle will be on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum from Jan. 27 through April 29, 2018, before traveling to Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

Forces of Change, 2017. Oil and acrylic on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff.Alexis Rockman

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less