Is Alexis Rockman an optimist or a pessimist?
Rockman produces large, colorful paintings many of which depict a dysfunctional interaction between the human and the non-human world as well as the transformation in non-human systems that humans are causing.
Rockman’s images do not attempt to depict nature in any kind of romanticized fashion. Rather bold in color and execution, they mostly have a violent, aggressive feel. Whether it is the human-nature interaction or the depiction of nature itself, we are largely left with uncomfortable feelings of aggression, ferocity and dysfunction when viewing his imagery.
The above image is titled “Arsenic” and we can make of that what we will. But it is far from a serene depiction of marine life.
Even his series “Weather” seems to be largely concerned with the power and destructive force of the weather (below) – as well as human pollution of weather systems – rather than with the fact that the Earth’s climate is the only one capable of supporting life and that, most of the time, we are living – or have learned to live – in harmony with our weather.
A short series titled “Wonderful World” might have offered the promise of some optimism. Yet even here, his title seems sarcastic and his focus is on the dysfunctional and the human instrumentalization of all things natural (below).
Rockman comes across as someone angry at the world and at the human impact on natural systems. Yet he offers no alternative visions; no encouragement on how we can do better or what a really “wonderful world” might look like.
Rockman’s work has been described as apocalyptic – which it certainly is. It is not clear whether he has a purpose in mind with regard to his viewers or whether his imagery simply represents the cathartic release of his own anger. With such dark, violent imagery, it is hard to imagine that people will be encouraged to do better or come away with any feelings of optimism that a better world could be achievable.
In a recent video interview below, Rockman describes his work and his feelings. While describing himself as mainly a pessimist, he acknowledges that there are also many wonderful things in the world. It seems a shame that he does not use at least some of his artistic skills to share some of those wonderful things and to inspire rather than just depress.