Whitehot Magazine

What Went Wrong: Alexis Rockman’s Shipwrecks, curated by Andrea Grover, at Guild Hall, East Hampton

Maelstrom, 2019 


Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.     – Mike Tyson

I have to confess that although I committed myself to writing on Alexis’ show several months ago, I was apprehensive once the day came near. After setting my eyes on the book that Andrea (and team) produced, the writings and historical images were so thorough and well done, I thought it best not to go near any of it. However, like a moth to flame, I was seduced by these tragically beautiful paintings and couldn’t let it go. On a basic level, I saw a universal relatability in every shipwreck in that something went wrong. Perhaps Icarus got too ambitious in his voyage, perhaps Ahab was too much of a maniac, or perhaps we just couldn’t see what lies beneath the surface, past the horizon, or we weren’t prepared for the approaching storm or cannon to the bow. The reasons or excuses are endless, and there is always a story to tell.

Andrea says that Alexis has the mindset of an athlete when his goes into a project. I agree, and know that is part of the reason why (and how) he has been so prolific throughout his career. There is a hunger for interpreting historical events, understanding nature, and the constant fight for and commentary on climate change. All of this manifests itself physically within the frame. There’s also a high level of training, in the form of research, before he even picks up a brush.

She herself happens to be prolific in a different sort of way. In this past decade she has become a cultural dynamo on the East End. I won’t get into the spanse of her accomplishments, but it all started growing up with a boatbuilder father and artist mother, and with those two sensibilities colliding in her childhood. She’s been at the helm of numerous maritime projects, which date back to her days in Houston and the Aurora Picture Show, which she founded in 1998.

Apparently the two hatched up this idea about three years ago at the Amagansett Library. The year prior, he made The Sinking of the Brig Helen and wanted to take a deeper dive into it.

The rest, as they say…

The Sinking of the Brig Helen, 2017


The Luxborough Galley depicts a particularly grisly example of humanity’s brutality, capturing the slave trade, exploitation of resources, greed, and unconscionable, debased behavior. Simultaneously, the jellyfish beneath the surface of the shipwreck are indifferent toward this human folly. The way that Alexis splits the picture frame with human activity above and sea life below in an impossible view is his signature and particularly powerful in this picture. 
– Andrea Grover

 Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, by Andrea Grover, with an Introduction by Daniel Finamore, Trevor Smith and contributions by Sasha Archibald, Chanda Laine Carey, and Brett Littman. Designed by Miko McGinty and Julia Ma.

   Alexis Rockman and Andrea Grover at Michael Halsband studio by James Salomon   

Shipwrecks will be on view at Guild Hall through July 26, 2021.


James Salomon

is the Director of Design Projects at Achille Salvagni Atelier in New York. He occasionally writes and takes pictures for various art, design, and lifestyle publications.


Photo: Lori Hawkins


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