The Diverse Artistic Universe of George H. Rothacker shares the artist’s years of shifts and struggles.
Some artists can trace their artistic lineage through generations. Others have no conceivable explanation for their talent. Radnor’s George Rothacker credits his DNA. But make no mistake, the man has style all his own.
In his new memoir, The Diverse Artistic Universe of George H. Rothacker (Outskirts Press, 228 pages), Rothacker shares the 50 years of shifts and struggles that have led him to where he is today. “Here’s a guy who must have a lot of tenacity and a lot of drive,” says Paul Downie, executive director of Wallingford’s Community Arts Center, where Rothacker has exhibited over the years.
Both the Community Arts Center and Main Line Art Center are hosting exhibits of Rothacker’s work through Oct. 9. A number of his drawings, paintings and books will be available for sale at both locations, with proceeds benefiting the Media Fellowship House’s Dorothy James scholarship fund.
Born in 1947 in Port Allegheny, Rothacker spent the first years of his life in a cabin in upstate Pennsylvania before his parents relocated to the southeastern region. Over the course of several years, they moved to a number of towns, from Philadelphia to Havertown, Broomall to Glenside, before calling Upper Darby home.
A graduate of Upper Darby High School, Rothacker would go on to Temple University, where he’d try his hand at engineering. “I couldn’t learn things in a conventional way, but I could learn anything through art,” he says.
Engineering wouldn’t pan out for him career wise, but it did help with his artistic fundamentals. “I learned my skills by going into engineering, and then into drafting,” he says.
Rothacker learned on the fly. By watching and talking with his colleagues, he picked up on their techniques. He moved from job to job, working as a technical illustrator, a traffic coordinator and a chart artist as he toiled away on his own art. Honing in on artists he admired, Rothacker would emulate their styles—surrealists like Salvador Dalí, Paul Klee, Yves Tanguy and Joan Miró. “I read books on all the different artists and tried to figure out which ones I liked and why,” he says. “Then I started to copy art styles in whatever medium.”
Marrying his commercial experience with fine art, Rothacker eventually founded his own advertising agency in Media. “Artists are resourceful, scrappy people that really have to be multi-faceted to make a living and to move their careers forward,” says Downie. “He’s someone who is willing to be playful and experimental. That, to me, is one of the hallmarks of a really special artist—someone who’s willing to try different things.”
As his work evolved, Rothacker expanded into pastels, watercolor, pen and ink, and acrylics, the latter his medium of choice to this day. He often turns out work in a series, whether the subject matter is 1930s New York or rock legends. “Most of his work is telling a story, and I think that’s part of the little threads of his illustration and design career—you see that seeping into his fine art,” Downie says. “He’s done a lot with montage, where he’s bringing various visual elements together into a single picture plane.”
In more traditional fashion, Rothacker focused on his own neighborhoods, creating a series that benefited preservation efforts at the Media Theatre. Later, he shifted to Radnor, showcasing homes, nature and the iconic Wayne train station. Partnering with Radnor High School for an exhibition, Rothacker helped raise over $40,000 for its scholarship fund. “When he has a big idea about an art project, he’s finding a way to use that idea not just to move him forward in his career, his artistic productivity, but he almost always ties his project to supporting some type of cause or organization,” says Downie.
At the prompting of a friend, Rothacker produced another series on the changing seasons at Eastern University, helping to raise nearly $40,000 for the school. Recently, he completed an impressive 20-foot, six-panel acrylic on canvas of South Philadelphia.
Rothacker has also worked on documentaries—most notably one commissioned by the Jimmy Stewart Museum, dedicated to the late actor. Through that, Rothacker moved into animation and commercials.
Last year, Rothacker published Singularity 1.0, the first in a trilogy of books about a futuristic America. Spanning 2029-2054, they focus on artificial intelligence and the changing political landscape. The second installment was released this August, with the final expected later this year. “Fiction allows me to do what I do with my art—layering, making things work out that don’t necessarily work out, putting people into future circumstances that they’d never be in,” he says.
Rothacker credits his grandmother for his artistic DNA and perseverance. “She’d raised her children to be better than she was or her family was,” he says.
She sent her children to private schools and eventually to college, before girls were expected to attend universities. “I was able to use my artistic skills to survive,” he says. “She gave me those skills.”