Rockey sits at his weathered wood table in his print shop. Big storefront windows on Cañon Avenue in downtown Manitou Springs give him the light and views he enjoys. 

Rockey, 85, is an artist, a retired art teacher, and a man treasured by countless who live in or pass through Manitou Springs

In this fourth post in “Words with Rockey,” a series of free-association conversations, I listen to Rockey’s words on his artwork of pairing illustrations and writing, what he sees in Tolkien, and his love of sharing.

Rockey’s Artwork | Pairing Illustrations + Writing

Everything is absolutely connected. The most simple, basic ways of understanding it, like the painting behind you (a Manitou Springs scene hanging on the wall of Rockey’s shop), any painting — an artist, if they’re really an artist, paints how they feel about something.

I don’t paint what I see. I paint how I feel about what see. So, when I paint how I feel about Manitou, which is love from the get-go, I’m hoping somebody sees that painting and feels that way, too. “Oh, I get something from this painting. I like looking at this painting.”

Because they are receiving a gift. Artists have gifts. When you give it, you get it back.

When an artist is doing an artwork, they’re giving all their energy and everything that they’ve got into the artwork. That’s enjoyable to do, but to realize somebody is looking at the artwork — every time somebody looks at one of my paintings I feel good, because I’ve given them something and they’re better off for it, for having experienced it.

Rockey, Artist in Manitou Springs

The Feel Good of Sharing Art with Others

I smile a lot. When I can see them really getting something from my painting, to me that’s why I paint. I think that’s almost why people are alive, to give something of themselves but in return they have shared —

The word “sharing,” to me, is one of the key words. Especially with love, thinking of love. Without sharing love is nothing, nowhere. Doesn’t exist.

Tolkien + Manitou

He’s one of those people I admire. His writing is fantasy, and it’s wonderful. He has kind of lessons and things to consider when he’s telling these stories. They’re told in such a way that there are messages behind those stories.

Is there a connection, an inspiration in some of your work?

No, no. He doesn’t inspire me in that way, but he’s in the same world as I am. He writes of fantasyland and, when I first saw Manitou, it would look like one of his illustrations if he had illustrations. Of course, he had stories.

And a lot of people that have read Tolkien can identify. It’s an explanatory way of my life right now, Tolkienesque.

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(We notice bubbles from a bubble machine streaming into the sunshine from a second-floor window we can see past the town clock and across Manitou Avenue.)

It’s one of those things, you know. I appreciate it. That’s Tolkienesque. Somebody blowing bubbles out the window (laughing) and sometimes they get all the way over the town clock here before they break.

(We continue to watch the bubbles, a simple joy we briefly share.)

Oh, there came one real fast. There must be a breeze out right now.