Alexis Rockman. South. 2008. Oil and Wax on Gessoed paper. 75x358.75 in.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum currently has an exhibition titled “A Fable for Tomorrow.” The exhibition features works of the artist Alexis Rockman. While the exhibit in its entirety is not unimpressive, I personally find the subject matter a bit too fantastical for my taste, though I esteem the bold color combinations and unique handling of paint. Among strange landscapes, bizarre insects, and phallicised farm animals, Rockman’s South stole the show.
Upon first viewing this massive polyptych, my thoughts immediately returned to 10th grade art class. My wonderful teach (who I hope is reading this now) was attempting to transform rowdy kids into avid color theorists. Complimentary colors were lesson #1. Following this, a general discussion of taboo combinations. Today’s lesson: Yellow-Gray. We were strictly forbidden from combing yellow and gray (until we were old enough to understand the consequences of our actions, that is). Fortunately, New York based Alexis Rockman decided to skip that day. While the skyline of the above image appears primarily, well, gray, the original painting reveals strong hints of dingy yellow readily disbursed throughout the clouds. There is no better color combination to demonstrate and exaggerate the vast bleakness contained within this polar landscape.
Though the mystical, carnivorous seal-like creature (located in the far right bottom corner) could practically fit in my hand, the monumentality of the work charms me. Each of the 7 panels is roughly 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and when mounted several feet off the ground, the top of this work resides well above even my own head. The panorama requires me to take several steps back, and then, several more, until finally I must check behind me to ensure I am not about to stumble in to anything or one. The work is sullen, encompassing, and entrancing.