Art Superheroes: an OrigINs story

Origins at The Delaware Contemporary

Rick Rothrock and Stan Smokler are two names that carry all the alliteration and swagger of DC or Marvel alter egos. The comparison is fitting; in the Delaware art world, Rothrock and Smokler are the superheroes. When The Delaware Contemporary wanted to launch their 40th anniversary year in 2019, they called on the two sculptors to kick off the year’s celebration with a joint exhibition. I choose to believe that the call came by way of a beamed signal, a lighted helix perhaps, corkscrewing into the night sky. If you’ve seen the work of these two men, Smokler, with his witty sense of play, and Rothrock, with his attunement to light and season, I think they would smile at that thought.

I went to The Delaware Contemporary check out “Origins,” the aptly named exhibit of their recent work. Aptly named, because Rick Rothrock is the founder and longtime supporter of the museum. This particular superhero mythology started in 1978 when Rothrock organized a collective of artists—the Artsquad– that came together to create site-specific and participatory art installations throughout New Castle County. The energy of the group and the public response was infectious, and soon Rothrock was dreaming about a permanent space to house and ignite the contemporary art scene in Delaware. He succeeded in bringing his dream to fruition a year later in 1979. Today, the mission statement reads, “The Delaware Contemporary is an art space that infuses contemporary art and creativity into our community through compelling exhibitions, dynamic educational experiences, and access to the artistic process.”

Stan Smokler, another longtime supporter of the museum, served on its board of directors from 1996-1999. And here is a tidbit: when the museum moved to its current location in 2000, Smokler was commissioned to create the door handles to the museum’s Wings Auditorium. (Make sure to check them out before heading into the gallery.)

Looking at the work of these two sculptors, there is another reason that “Origins” is an appropriate name. Both Rothrock and Smokler profess to using nature as an inspiration, and you can see it in the organic curves, use of sacred geometry, and negative space– all which evoke a certain spiral or opening up that reminded me of an uncoiling seed.

Smokler works in metal–often incorporating found objects and industrial cast-offs and fashioning them into new forms. His pieces have a touch of the familiar, something that connects the viewer to a memory, even if you don’t know what that memory is. When I checked the titles, “Sea Shells” or “Moonface” or “Jack in the Box #8,” I had that sense of “Ah, yes! That is what it reminds me of.” By contrast, Rick Rothrock’s work is more lyrical, existing not in physical representation but in the tendrils of spirit or idea. In a great paradox, Rothrock takes stone, the very foundation of the material world, and uses it to create something that is reminiscent of smoke. Even his titles are conceptual. “Silurian Swirl.” “Inverse Connection.” Both men play with the tension that negative space brings. Their works are as much about the voids as the materials that frame them. Here is something fun to do at this exhibit: look through the oculus of one sculptor’s work to view the work of the other. Isn’t that what art appreciation is about anyway? Viewing one person’s manipulation of the elements through the lens of another person’s experience?

Do you have an Artsquad of your own? No? What are you waiting for? This January is the perfect time to round up a crew of your more sparkling acquaintances (superpowers optional) and head to the Delaware Contemporary. It’s time to celebrate a big birthday.

Origins at the Delaware Contemporary, 200 South Madison Street, runs from January 8 – April 21, 2019.

Opening Reception: Friday, January 11, 2019 7-9pm with an Artist Talk held at 7:30pm.