Alexis Rockman, New York based artist in front of 'Manifest'
Alexis, who describes himself as 'an artist who makes subjective
natural history paintings', has been working for five years to
finish the art for his show 'Wonderful World' currently at the
Camden Art Centre London and 'Manifest' - his Guernica-esque ode to
global warming currently on show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art in
"I conceived of these projects as responses to what I consider
to be the two most important issues on the planet, which are global
warming and the biotech revolution. I wanted both projects to be as
scientifically accurate as possible. The 'Wonderful World' series
is about the more immediate concerns of biotechnology and its
impact on the history and futures of species and what a species
boundary means, why it's so disturbing and revolutionary.
"Manifest Destiny is concerned with the projected results of the
industrial revolution 3000 years into the future. It is as
scientifically accurate as possible as I wanted to confront the
public with a visual display of the repercussions of current
Alexis' paintings visualise the hopes and popularly held fears
about scientific progress and the wide-ranging effects of human
intervention on animal species, ecosystems, and the natural
We are brought face to face with a future that is at once
surreal and unsettlingly familiar. Mutant animals, geometric
landscapes, alternative environments either sterilized by science
or unredeemably altered due to pollution. All this makes for some
"My position is one of ambivalence as the horse is already out
of the barn so to speak; it is not biotechnology that is the
problem but corporate America or globalism or colonialism. The
implications of using this technology are far more devastating
because of the unknowable effects. This is something that is very
disturbing and visually compelling to me," explains Alexis.
Despite the questions that Alexis' work throws up about
humanity's role in shaping a dystopian future, there's no obvious
judgement in it.
Every element in the art is painstakingly researched. All the
biological images have been developed through extensive
collaboration with specialists in molecular biology, genetics,
natural history and medical science.
"I really have to say these are relatively neutral images even
if I use information that tends to make people feel uncomfortable.
But I don't see that as negative. I try to show things that are
obviously familiar but also inform them with as much cultural and
scientific history as I can, so that they are credible.
"The stuff that may not be noticed - for instance the geometry
of the landscape in 'The Farm'- to me is far more scary than an
albino hairless mouse with cartilage growing on its back. I am also
trying to make an emotionally resonant image that reaches people. I
try to make it as credible as possible without making it
Alexis is aware of the political power of his work. As an
American, he believes he is well placed to bring attention to the
consequences of his homeland's environmental, economic and
"I am of a generation whose relationship with the government and
big business comes out of a post-Watergate scepticism. How could my
work not have a political effect? I feel like I am in such a
privileged position I would find it unconscionable if I didn't take
advantage of that as someone who cares about these issues."
Collectively, the paintings presented in 'Wonderful World' offer
a graphic vision of a bio-engineered near future in which human and
animal bodies, crops and plants have been genetically altered to
suit a variety of needs - whether commercial, aesthetic, medical or
Despite the potentially complex nature of the exhibition he
makes a point of not being elitist, as his subject is something
that touches every person on the planet.
"I don't expect anyone to know anything. That is why I am a
populist. If I have a show and people from different demographics
come to find out about global warming, I don't want to lose half of
my audience due to my arrogance. It has to be decipherable to a
six-year-old child. I try to construct it as an onion with
different layers of meaning and iconography."
The negative consequences of industrial and technological
progress are rarely addressed in a modern culture fuelled by the
products of multinational entertainment conglomerates. Alexis'
paintings hang out on the edge of complacency, forcing us to
confront a vision of the future implicit in the choices we, as a
society, make today.