Alexis Rockman, whose exhibition, “A Natural History of New York” is running through May 5th at Salon 94 takes the artist’s normal musings on nature and the future of animal and plant life with his imagined, lush depictions of dystopian landscapes and mutated flora and faunae and inverts these notions with a more traditional and academic recording of the animals that once roamed a prehistoric version of New York. These beautiful, muted paintings act as a kind of reconfigured naturalist’s field guide (Latin names, such as Pagophilus Groenlandicus for Harp Seal, enhance this concept), demonstrating the astounding biodiversity of the city, as well as highlighting the notion that with human environmental interference, the natural order of things is changed and often lost.
Working in close collaboration with New York’s Natural History Museum and the Wildlife Conservation Society and employing materials found at the site-specific habitats of his subjects, Rockman recreates their depictions from dirt, fossils and detritus. The result is 75 multi-layered works of creatures and plants, whose vast array of lives in the city may surprise viewers.
As an artist who primarily looks to an imagined, global future, imbued with hyper-colorful technique and lush composition, it is an interesting departure to see how, here, he looks locally and to the past for the inspiration for this exhibition. Similarly, in creating a more monochromatic, soft approach, Rockman inverts his typical style and allows for the viewer to consider his or her own relationship to the world and to nature in yet another compelling, contextual incarnation.