Panoramic painting by Alexis RockmanAlexis Rockman (American, b. 1962). 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: The Great Lakes Cycle

January 27, 2018 – April 29, 2018

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle explores the past, present, and future of North America’s Great Lakes–one of the world’s most emblematic and ecologically significant ecosystems.

This multifaceted project was initiated in 2013 when artist Alexis Rockman embarked on a research tour of the Great Lakes region. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a suite of five mural-sized paintings which explore separate themes that emerged during Rockman’s travels. These are accompanied by several large-scale watercolors and field drawings–monochromatic animal and plant studies made from site-sourced organic material such as mud, sand, coal, and leaves.

One of the world’s great natural treasures, the Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, and Superior—form an interconnected system that is among the most beautiful, economically significant, and ecologically complex regions on the planet. The Great Lakes, which hold over 20% of the world’s fresh water, contain some of the most precious resources for the future of humankind and life on earth. Rockman’s series celebrates the natural majesty and global importance of the Great Lakes while exploring how they are threatened by factors including climate change, globalization, invasive species, mass agriculture and urban sprawl. While there has been some success in reversing these trends, the exhibition of these dramatic works will serve to inspire wider understanding and draw greater attention to the urgency of these issues.

About the Artist

Born in 1962 and raised in New York City, Rockman has been the subject of many international solo and group exhibitions, including a major retrospective organized at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His work is also included in public and private collections around the world, and he has held a number of teaching posts at prestigious institutions, such as Columbia and Harvard.

Rockman synthesizes human history, natural science, and landscape painting to create visual vistas that reveal unexpected relationships across time and space. Since the mid-1980s, he has created a dramatic and distinct body of epic-scale paintings and works on paper that draw from his deft artistic skills, rich visual inventiveness, deep scientific awareness, broad art historical knowledge, and a passionate concern about the Earth’s ecological future.

The son of an Australian jazz musician and American urban archeologist, Rockman spent his childhood exploring Central Park, studying natural history guide books, watching nature documentary films, frequenting the Museum of Natural History dioramas and creating his own vivariums, all experiences that have shaped The Great Lakes Cycle.


Exhibition Touring Schedule

Following its debut in Grand Rapids, Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle will travel to the following venues:

Chicago Cultural Center – June 2 through October 1, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland – October 19, 2018 through January 27, 2019

Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis – October 5, 2019 through January 5, 2020

Related Events

Member Exhibition Opening
January 26, 2018, 7:00 PM-9:00 PM

Join us for the exclusive members opening of Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle. 

painting with natural pigments

Adult Workshop: Painting with Natural Pigments
January 27, 2018, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM

Ever wonder how to make your own paint? Tour Alexis Rockman’s “Field Drawings,” which the artist painted using earth, sand, and coal mixed with a binder. Then, learn how to make your own paint from plants, minerals, and spices down in the studio.

painting a fish with mud

Drop-in Studio: Field Drawings
Saturdays in February, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM

Can you paint with mud? How about sand? In his series of “Field Drawings,” artist Alexis Rockman made plant and animal studies using dirt, sand, mud, coal, and leaves he collected from different locations around the Great Lakes. Explore Rockman’s “Field Drawings,” then come down to the studio to make one of your own.

Headshot of middle-aged man wearing glasses

The Great Lakes in the 21st Century: Unprecedented Change, Uncertain Future
February 22, 2018, 7:00 PM-8:00 PM

Learn about the profound ecological changes that have unfolded in the Great Lakes since 2000, with Jeff Alexander, an award-winning author and former environmental journalist who spent two decades covering Great Lakes issues.

Baby and Me Tour

Baby and Me Tour
March 27, 2018, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM

Moms, dads, caregivers, and grandparents are invited to join us for an interactive tour and discussion inspired by our latest exhibition, Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle.