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Environmentally-Focused Paintings About Great Lakes On Display At Marquette University

Five massive murals are the centerpiece of a body of work created by New York-based artist Alexis Rockman on display at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art until May 19. Titled The Great Lakes Cycle, the oil paintings explore the lakes’ ecosystems and the impact humans have had on them.

Rockman says he gravitated to the natural world early in life.

“Growing up in Manhattan, I always longed for wild places as a place of enchantment but they were very much a part of my imagination because I didn’t go there that often ... and that led me to draw a lot of plants and animals, mostly animals, mostly frogs,” Rockman says.

The Great Lakes project evolved out of a conversation Rockman had with Dana Friis Hansen, director and CEO of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The two have collaborated on projects for over 20 years, in places like Japan and Houston, Texas.

“He said, ‘What’s your dream project?’ And I thought why not keep me off the street, do something that we take a couple of years and let’s really dive deep,” Rockman says.

Credit Susan Bence
Rockman created this series of "field drawings" out of materials he collected as he toured the Great Lakes.

Rockman drove the Michigan side of Lake Michigan, talking with people along the way – from fishermen to scientists.

He particularly credits Jill Leonard, professor of biology at Northern Michigan University.

“She understood because she’s such a good educator how to tell these stories and what needed to be told,” Rockman says.

He describes the Great Lakes as being very young, beaten down and abused.

"And it’s going to get worse, I think. Twenty percent of the world’s water — there are going to be wars over this water in the future," he adds, “It’s one of the most precious things we have as a country and you’re lucky to live near it.”

Credit Susan Bence
Marquette University students visit the exhibit.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>