Rockey is a teacher with a message. He’s neither selling nor evangelizing but, if you take time to listen, there’s something to learn from an artist who’s been creating for 75 years. On a beautiful Thursday morning I was honored to accompany him to lunch at St. Andrew’s church. We rambled about topics on his feelings about technology, what it’s like to live in Manitou, his favorite places to eat, art and, most importantly, his philosophy on love. Normally, he can be seen sitting in the store front of his blue, French-townhouse-like building on Canon Ave., surrounded by scale-models of tree houses, he looks like something out of a fantasy novel. A sage-like wizard with white hair intermingling with a white beard, resembling Leonardo Da Vinci’s self portrait, yet with a more pronounced nose. His eyebrows perch like bushy ledges hanging over a set of child-like bright blue eyes that change color to reflect his mood.

Concerning 21st century technology, it completely baffles Rockey. A man whose only instruments of technology are a phone and a television, he neither has patience for it nor does he need it, as his is a world of face-to-face interaction, of reading the emotion on someone’s visage over a smoothie at the Good Karma or a laugh while sitting in one of the wooden chairs in his overstuffed studio. He’s concerned more and more people are further growing disengaged from human interactions through the extended use of our digital apparatuses. “We’re missing out on what love is all about,” Rockey explained, “with technology as part of the problem but another part of the problem is TV.” I explained how the youth of today were using video game technology to find friends around the world. How they are able to watch movies together, talk and sometimes play video games together without ever leaving their living room. He seemed to be ok with this style of interaction but was still concerned about children learning the social context of everyday interaction. “The person to person is still to me what life is all about. It’s living and sharing with others, right there, and talking to each other seeing eyeball to eyeball…I have to admit that there is some communication that never would have happened without the computer but on the other hand it’s changing our culture and our society and how we relate with each other.”

“The thing I love most about Manitou, to this day now,” he explains, “is when the flood happened to all these stores along here, I almost got wiped out of all my figure drawings and stuff.” He grew despondent and thought about selling out in fear the next flood might destroy what was left. “The day after the flood, people came down from on the hill without getting together or any announcement or anything, 200 people came down that morning…each one was individually motivated to come down and help, and I thought, this is my home.” Whenever Rockey talks about his home the topic inadvertently returns to art, “I’ve painted Manitou over a thousand times now and I can still go out and in ten minutes find the scene I’ve never painted. And, I’ve never done the same scene twice.”

BEYOND ALL THIS, ROCKEY IS A DEEPLY PHILOSOPHICAL MAN. A TEACHER FOR A MAJOR PORTION OF HIS LIFE, HE’S HELPED MANY YOUNG TEENS FIND THEIR OWN PATH.

Before purchasing his building in 1974, he lived here in the mid 60’s with a friend. When asked what Manitou was like back then, he said, “Pretty much the way it is now, with the flavor, but back then there were more, what do they call them, beatniks, artists, writers and musicians…there was more drinking available and the nights were louder and the days were quiet.”

Rockey believes people need to really open their eyes and look around them, to not just lightly glance. “People are treating life like that, they don’t look, they don’t see the wonders of the earth. Nature’s the greatest artist ever. She gets an A+ from me. Nature can just inspire you,” he said.

When it comes to his favorite eateries, Rockey keeps it simple: Adam’s Mountain Cafe for their food and artwork; Good Karma for their smoothies; Heart of Jerusalem Cafè for their chicken; and St. Andrew’s for lunch.

Beyond all this, Rockey is a deeply philosophical man. A teacher for a major portion of his life, he’s helped many young teens find their own path. Through his education, teaching and art, he began to realize that there were four levels of experiencing art that could carry-over into life and love itself. And, possibly help someone reach a level of enlightenment where life and love becomes a work of art. He began to transform his experiences into a journey of love. “It’s a philosophy that I think anybody can pick up on and use it to help themselves to express themselves even more,” he says, referring to the four levels. “It’s where love is the foundation of living, instead of money being the foundation.”

In his Master of Fine Arts Thesis, he articulates how to best experience art into four levels. “The first one is to look at the central surface: the color, lines, textures, shapes and all that. The second level is to [ask] what is the subject matter? Well, here’s a tree over here and there’s someone sitting under that tree, meditating maybe. And, then the third level is symbolic. Well, what does this symbolize? To start trying to find reason and substance for the painting besides just being a painting. Then the message goes there. What is the message behind this painting? The fourth one is to entice someone to feel, actually be responsive to the artwork. To really look at it and get the most from it. If you look at a Michelangelo, that will stay with you the rest of your life.”

Rockey then applied this model to life. His first level, the surface, begins simply: a chance noticing of one another; an attraction; a good conversation; holding hands; texts; phone calls and first dates. The second, deeper level develops an understanding and recognizes the significance of an interaction. “To absorb the energies and beauty and everything and put it inside of you, at that moment,” explains Rockey. The third level is gauging the value of the experience. Asking yourself, what does this mean and where does it belong in relation to your feelings of joy? The fourth level is how one responds to another, and vice versa, and what both can bring out in each other: the total expression of that value of love.

Rockey believes that if we find a way to respond to life, love, and art we would enrich ourselves by adding joy to our lives and the lives we touch. That this philosophy-in-action could spread through our small community, raising the overall group consciousness of our valley, and disseminate throughout the Pikes Peak region and beyond. But, he reminds, it starts with us. He goes on to explain the hardest part is to quit allowing ourselves to be so distracted, to become so overwhelmed with details that we forget to take the time to engage in what’s most important: love, joy, connectedness and experience.

This month is a special one for Rockey. He’s at the crossroads of his life’s work and philosophy that’s culminating in an event at the end of the month, in Manitou, called the “Celebration of Love”. This is a happening that promises to include everyone in this jubilation of joy. There will be time to share stories, write letters to loved ones, renew wedding vows, tour the natural mineral springs and take meditative strolls through Garden of the Gods, and many more events of love, joy and appreciation to extend an experience that will heighten awareness and possibly lend insight into Rockey’s life’s work and what it can mean for you.

The occasion also highlights the release of one of the largest collections of his work in a weighty tome he has produced called Love Songs of Middle-Time Echoed Through Illuminations and Fables. It features his artwork, musings, stories and philosophy on life and love. The signed books will be offered starting Saturday, May 30th at various stores around Manitou Springs.

“This is my happiness and maybe you could find yours and live with it.” says Rockey, “This is my legacy, in a sense.”

by Raleigh Walters