Rick Hidalgo’s life might have turned out completely different if not for a home-building nightmare his parents faced when he was just about to enter high school. The family had planned to move from Hockessin to Middletown, to a brand-new house they were having built. Then things went wrong, and the construction was shut down. In the late ’90s, he was supposed to go to high school in Middletown. Instead, Hidalgo wound up registering for his freshman year at A.I. du Pont High School at the last minute.
“All of the electives were taken — all that were left was band and art, and I was like, ‘Hell if I’m taking band,'” he said with a laugh.
So, it was a major SNAFU that led him to A.I.’s Art Majors program and art instructor Robert Boyce.(Sidenote: I also went through that program in the late ’80s, and it was truly college level.)
In fact, A.I. was the beginning and the end of his classroom art education. “I had no formal training other than Bob Boyce,” he said. No art school, no business school — he graduated and he went to work at various jobs to pay the bills.
“I started worrying,” Hidalgo said, “like ‘You don’t have a college degree, you don’t have your master’s in fine art, how are you going to do this?'”
Fast forward to today, and Hidalgo has his own gallery and coworking art space, RH Gallery and Studios in Hockessin, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary. He received Capital One’s Wilmington Art Program Honorarium award and was appointed the program’s exhibit installation manager in 2017. He’s also been an art teacher at Wilmington’s Nativity Preparatory School, a tuition-free Catholic middle-school for low-income boys, for five years, and has gathered high-profile clients like Sallie Mae, which commissioned him to paint large-scale paintings of Delaware landmarks for the company’s new headquarters in Wilmington.
“The really cool thing,” Hidalgo said about the Sallie Mae commissions, “was that they had a really deep need for local artwork — something for the employees that grew up in Delaware, that this is home. You go to the Riverfront and you see the Kalmar Nickel, or you go to the shore and you know Dolles, there are just certain iconic landmarks around that are comfortable and familiar, and they wanted those elements to be present there.”
“There was no other option in my heart.”
When people fantasize about the life of an artist, it often goes something like this: Sleep all day, splash some paint on a canvas, relax some more and sell the painting for the equivalent of a mortgage payoff. Being a really good businessperson and entrepreneur is rarely part of the dream.
“It’s a lot of work,” Hidalgo says. “I felt like there was no other option in my heart.”
Before RH Gallery, Hidalgo showed his work all over the city — sometimes after convincing big-time real estate companies to let him an other artists utilize its unrented space.
“I was hosting shows with Artworks and inWilm,” he said. “Popup shows in vacant spaces that BPG [Buccini/Pollin Group] owned and wanted to get exposure for. There were a couple of times where somebody rented the spaces after we had the show there. That was the pitch, and it worked.”
The popups did well, but he envisioned something different from the downtown popups. “That whole time I had a vision of what was ideal for those shows, but there were like 6 or 8 people involved with different ideas as far as aesthetics.”
It was Hidalgo’s friend Tina Gioffre, whose father owns the building at 1304 Old Lancaster Pike in Hockessin, who offered him the space for rent. The second-floor space has a large open area used as the gallery, plus room for a spacious studio, and then some. It soon became a place where artists could have rent studio spaces — a coworking space for creatives.
Hidalgo’s non-commission artwork plays with texture, color and light. Hundreds of plastic toy soldiers are part of a large multi-medium work-in-progress in his studio. It’s a distinctive style — if you’ve seen his work in a gallery, you probably remember it, because you probably looked at it for a long time.
“My works are a composition of art and science; bringing the two together to re-create specific natural elements of the environments that surround us in our daily lives,” Hidalgo writes.
In April, he’ll have a solo exhibition at The Delaware Contemporary; in the meantime, RH Gallery just wrapped up Kristen Margiotta’s ALLA PRIMA, a collection of 21 portraits of area artists and musicians.
The Delaware art community, like many other professional communities in the state, has the benefit of small size, Hidalgo says.
“It’s an advantage, as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there,” he said. “It’s very comforting, too. Everybody knows everybody.”-30-