carnivorous nights


the Authors

About the Artist

Read the first chapter

Beast of the Month


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Interview with Artist Alexis Rockman:

Q: Tell me about your personal relationship with the Tasmanian tiger (a.k.a. thylacine) taxidermy --- the one that inspired you and the authors to travel to Tasmania.
A: I grew up in the American Museum of Natural History. My mother was an assistant to Margaret Meade, so as a youth the taxidermy thylacine was always a mysterious presence that hovered above me in the halls. Years later, when I used to have meetings at Natural History magazine, I would glance longingly at it while I walked by. It's haunted me throughout my life.

Q: And this image has made appearances in your artwork?
A: Yes. I put it in a mural called the Recent History of the World, which is about ecological damage humans have wrought throughout the planet. And I did a close-up watercolor of one in mid-howl.

Q: Why is the thylacine such a powerful image for you?
A: It's the poster child of apex predator extinction ... a haunting icon that forces us to face a legacy of extinction. Plus it's cute as hell.

Q: There are images of cryptozoological creatures in your work like Sasquatch and the globster. Where does the thylacine fit in here?
A: The thylacine has double duty. Don't forget it is foremost a real and genuine species, not one cooked up by fervid imaginations. Yet the current evidence of the actual animal is so fleeting. It is the coin that has two sides in cryptozoology --- on the one hand it's an historical figure, yet it fuels an industry based on hope and mythology. It brings tears to your eyes.

Q: Part of the book focuses on your search for the ink of a giant squid. Why are you desperate to find this substance?
A: Architeuthis is the most mythic living animal out there. And there couldn't be anything more elegant than using the ink of a giant squid to draw a giant squid. Using an artist's material from within the creature is both art history and natural history.

Q: Like when you painted a sperm whale with spermaceti for the book?
A: Yes. Too bad it smelled rank, like a sardine factory crossed with wet dog.

Q: Why do think it's more fitting to have illustrations in this book than photographs?
A: If they had photography I would have been out of a job. But seriously, doing drawings is my way of having diaristic participation. It's my way of being an author. Also, since some of these animals and plants have a questionable future (and present, like the thylacine), it's the best way of remembering these species. The images have a fleeting quality; it's like they're ghosts from a spectral dimension.

Q: What do you mean "questionable future?"
A: Some of these species, like Tasmanian devils and Eucalyptus regnans (the biggest tree in the southern hemisphere), might disappear entirely from Earth one day.

Q: What is your favorite Tasmanian animal?
A: The spotted-tailed quoll. It's an animal that falls between the cracks, not a doggie and not a cat. It is unapologetically a predator. Also, I'm obsessed by the quoll's tail. It's not a tail, it's an extension of its torso. It looks like an animal from the past. It looks like a mutation of nothing you've ever seen before. All of Earth's history is in this animal. It's beyond boundaries. It's primal. It's hot! It's a Dasyurid thing. It may be more profound than the thylacine.

Q: You're a fan of extreme animals ... what was the most extreme animal you saw in Tasmania?
A: I'm a fan of unlikely and unlovable animals. First on the list is the thylacine --- a "Down Under lion" with a pouch. Also unloved is the Tasmanian devil (just consider its name), which to me looks like a child's drawing of a scary dog. And the Tasmanian giant crayfish. Most people wouldn't cuddle up to a giant crayfish, but to me it's sexy.

Q: You painted with materials you found along the way: dust, mud, wombat scat, etc. What was the most difficult to paint with?
A: Using materials from the trip was a fun way of connecting to the place. But my own blood was a drag. I was trying to draw a leech with my blood, but it would not flow---even when the authors jabbed me with a needle. I think I was ambivalent. I wanted to keep it real, but not that real.

Q: What was it like collaborating with two authors?
A: Together Michael and Margaret make one personality, so it's like dealing with one author. Except when they play "good cop/bad cop."

Q: Who was the good cop?
A: Oh, they switch roles to confuse me.

Learn more about Alexis Rockman at the Leo Koenig Gallery.