Local artist Rothermel looks forward to a colored experience | AspenTimes.com
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Local artist Rothermel looks forward to a colored experience

Stewart Oksenhorn
Woody Creek resident David Rothermel has an exhibit of his Southwestern landscapes at Museum Works through Sept. 10.
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David Rothermel is about to finish his first season as a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley. The summer has been good to the 55-year-old artist, as he has been driving around the valley in his convertible – top down, of course – to take in the landscape and plan his paintings.What has Rothermel particularly excited, though, is not the summer that’s about to pass, but the autumn to come. The colors in the higher elevations are beginning to turn, and Rothermel is seeing shades he hasn’t witnessed in decades.”I haven’t seen the leaves change in 20 years,” said Rothermel, a native of semirural Pennsylvania who has spent the last two decades in the southwestern U.S. “I haven’t seen seasons since 1980. So for three months, I’ve been studying, clarifying my vision.”

Rothermel was planning to start painting the valley landscapes this past week. Meanwhile the Woody Creeker, who has been showing his work in Aspen for eight years, has an exhibit of his Southwest landscapes at Museum Works that shows through Sept. 10.The move to Colorado is the latest high point in a career, and life, that has been a series of strikes and gutters.In his native central Pennsylvania, where he camped, hiked and fished, Rothermel fell in love with the landscapes. Pen and paper were as much a part of a camping trip as were tent and rod. His years in the late ’60s and early ’70s at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art – America’s oldest art school, where his great-uncle, Peter Frederick Rothermel, was the founding director – were a mixed bag. “In art school, I learned about quote, unquote, art, all the -isms,” said Rothermel. He went on to teach at Maine’s prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting for a short spell and drifted toward abstract art.A combination of too much partying and too little artistic direction led Rothermel to a six-year sabbatical from painting. In 1981 he moved to Las Cruces, N.M., where he picked up his brushes once again – to paint commercial billboards for an advertising company. Not until 1987 did he make his first painting of the infamous New Mexico light and land that have attracted so many artists.

“I unlearned everything I learned,” said Rothermel. With the unlearning came a fresh examination: “Am I an abstract expressionist? Am I a minimalist? I didn’t know what I was. So I went back to my high school sweetheart, which was landscapes and nature. And, finally, after six years, I found my own voice. It just came out of me. I finally knew what I was as an artist. I knew what my job description in the eyes of god was.”Rothermel had plenty of success with his landscapes and skyscapes. After 21 years in New Mexico, Rothermel had the itch to move again. Motivated by the nature of his work – “When you’re a landscape painter, you’ve got to move around,” he said – and commercial considerations, he relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz., where the art market was booming. But Rothermel found his new home uninspiring.”I found it lacked spirituality and soul,” he said. “It wasn’t like here and New Mexico. Because Scottsdale is more commercial; it’s a metropolis, a city.”Against the background of an epiphany he had several years before moving to Arizona, Rothermel knew he couldn’t stay in a place he found soulless. Six years ago, during a visit to Aix-en-Provence, Rothermel meditated in Cezanne’s studio and saw a sort of light.

“I had a moment of clarity there,” he recalled. “Whether it was Cezanne’s voice, my voice, god’s voice, whatever – the message was, stay inspired, and everything would be OK.”Rothermel is starting to feel artistically inspired again, and, sure enough, life does seem OK. “I’m very excited about painting the Roaring Fork Valley. The visual combinations are spectacular,” he said.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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