Stunning paintings show threats to Great Lakes

Nov 21, 2017

New York artist Alexis Rockman describes his paintings of the Great Lakes as "natural history psychedelia." And just one look at the surreal, mural-size canvases -- bursting with color and energy -- shows why.

Forces of Change by Alexis Rickman, on display at GRAM. (Collection of Jonathan O'Hara and Sheila Skaff)
Credit GRAM

There are sea monsters and the doomed freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, power plants and decrepit grain elevators, the Hepatitis C virus and invasive zebra mussels. There also are things of beauty: lake sturgeon, loons, caribou and Niagara Falls.

(As well as an homage to Frederic Edwin Church, whose paintings helped to make the falls an international tourist attraction.) 

Niagara Falls study by Frederic Edwin Church

Rockman's Great Lakes Cycle is on display at GRAM in Grand Rapids, Mich., and will move on to museums in Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Flint. 

In an interview with Here & Now, Rockman talked about the origins of his paintings. He said he conducted a listening tour to learn more about the history of the lakes. He spoke with a wide range of folks, from professors to fishermen.

And he came away with a better understanding of the Great Lakes' biggest challenges -- and their importance to the nation.

"I have a tremendous fondness and affinity for the lakes," he said. "I think they've been pretty neglected by America. [With] the freshwater issues that we're all going to face in the future, they're going to become crucial assets. More valuable than anything on earth."