Critics’ Picks

Alexis Rockman, The Rime, 2020, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 18 x 24".

Alexis Rockman, The Rime, 2020, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 18 x 24".

New York

Alexis Rockman

Sperone Westwater
257 Bowery
November 20, 2020–January 16, 2021

The ghosts of humankind haunt Alexis Rockman’s new marine tableaux, executed in watercolor and acrylic on paper, at Sperone Westwater. In The Rime, 2020, a seagull glides before a foundering ship. Nearby, a billowing cloud of ocher and purple—the colors of forest-fire smoke and putrefied flesh—forms the visage of Death itself. Elsewhere, the empty wooden skiff in Lifeboat HMS Terror, 2020, floats unmoored on a gelid, blue-gray ocean, encircled by murky ice floes and polar bears. “Lost Cargo,” the title of Rockman’s exhibition, suggests the befuddlement of our own doomed species, and its extinction in the face of climate disaster. Wild fauna flourishes, while domesticated animals—a horse, some dogs—are adrift in the artist’s fabulous, post-apocalyptic settings, without a clue as to how to survive. Grand man-made edifices, such as the Taj Mahal and the Hagia Sophia, make their appearances as decaying memories.

Rockman has been making imagined versions of the natural world and its gradual degradation for more than thirty-five years. Unlike the works in this show, his paintings are often sharply detailed and epic in scale and frequently merge the dark comedy of Hieronymus Bosch with the exquisite tenderness of a John James Audubon rendering. The artist’s water-based media react with one another and the paper to create blooming, otherworldly compositions cloaked in luminous mists and liquid shadows—each picture seemingly touched by acid rain. And even though his fable-like cautionary tales, strewn with symbolism and humor, are executed more loosely here, they remain, as usual, monstrously potent. Indeed, we’re unable to avert our eyes from Rockman’s nightmares, as he makes our creeping ruination so terribly entrancing.