Painter Skip Rohde did not expect to end up in the Smithsonian. But when the artist and veteran naval officer completed his “Faces of Afghanistan” series — after an assignment in that country in 2011, as a temporary State Department officer — he knew he had something very special.
“The pieces belonged together. I didn’t want to split them up,” said Rohde. “They felt like a relevant piece of U.S. history.”
The Smithsonian agreed, and Rohde enjoyed the rare and humbling opportunity to add his works to one of the world’s preeminent collections. “They let me check out some of the collection in storage,” he says, smiling. “I get even got to peek in some of the drawers.”
Rohde’s artistic career has had plenty of twists and turns. Since childhood, he has enjoyed painting and drawing. But he went to college for engineering and followed a circuitous path into the Navy, where he served for 22 years. Stationed in Maryland, not far from DC, he started taking art classes again on the side. He was ready for a career change and a chance to pursue a vocation he’d always loved. Seven years later, he retired from the military, and he and his wife moved to Asheville so he could study fine art at UNCA.
The plan had been to leave after completing a degree, but Rohde and his wife grew to love Asheville and its vibrant arts scene. After graduating, Rohde found a studio in the River Arts District and got to work on a wide variety of subjects. These include the provocative, moving series “Meditation on War” and the aforementioned “Faces of Afghanistan” — inspired by his time called back to the front — and his wickedly funny, satirical “Twisted Tales.” Rohde’s works display a broad, rich sense of the world, informed by his unique experience, thoughtful consideration of politics and history, and an undeniable wit and humor.
Even in his vivid landscapes and individual portraits, Rohde, who became the director of Weizenblatt Gallery at Mars Hill University two years ago, evinces a storyteller’s sense of character and perspective. He credits this to his fundamental interest in those around him and the things we all share.
“People,” he says. “It’s all about people. You can pass somebody in the street, without thinking twice about them, and miss out on the most amazing experiences, insights, capabilities, fears, hopes, heartbreaks, and everything else that life can throw at you. Things that I have no experience in, or have not lived so deeply as they have.
“Learning other people’s experiences can be mind-blowing. So I draw and paint people to tell their stories. Not mine.”
Skip Rohde, Mars Hill. Rohde’s works were featured in September at Weizenblatt Gallery at the Mars Hill University Faculty Biennial. For more information, see skiprohde.com.