The newly restored Flagstar Strand Theater in Pontiac opened its gallery to a retrospective exhibition of artwork by Rocco Pisto on January 20, 2023, spanning fifty years of painting that began in 1976. Watercolor is a medium that has been around for over several hundred years, yet often thought of as a secondary choice of paint to oil and acrylic. You might look at the early work of Albrecht Durer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Klee, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent to realize its place in history and its ability to withstand centuries. Where oil and acrylic paint are additive mediums, watercolor is subtractive, usually on paper, and translates its nature with its ability to have the strength and capacity of transparency. Watercolor is made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution, which refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. Rocco Pisto’s 50 pieces range from 1976 to 2022 and reflect the artist’s unique techniques in controlling and experimenting with the watercolor medium.
The early work Telegraph Run, done in 1976 during Pisto’s MFA work at Eastern Michigan University, illustrates a fluid construction that builds a composition using carefully placed primary colors and a delicate violet line structure that holds it all together. In his statement, Pisto says, “As a painter for over fifty years, I never tire of the experimental process of starting a piece and solving the design problems along the way to make it a finished work. Spontaneity, discovery, individuality, analysis, visual balance, contrast, and contradiction summarize my thought process.”
Over time in Pisto’s work, we see various categories, including landscapes and figures, with all subjects that have evolved to the abstract expressionism in this field painting, Fire & Ice. The line that begins with the landscape and proceeds to abstraction is not straight. Pisto is back and forth throughout his career, keeping his thinking spontaneous and his trademark unique. He says, “The paintbrush becomes a performer, dancing across the paper, juicy and full of life. My work frees my imagination and provides many opportunities for magical accidents.”
More recent is the large image of the Ren Cen at Night, which relies heavily on the waterfront river reflection looking on from the Canadian side of the river. This watercolor has been used as a backdrop for a commercial poster for the 75th MWCS exhibition. Pisto says, “My painting technique abstractly by dripping, pouring, splashing, and brushing paint allows the work to evolve until it meets my criteria of what constitutes a successful piece of art.”
The large watercolor in Marsala Glow is neither landscape, still life, figurative or pure abstraction. To this viewer, it is part aerial, part diagram, with a warm collection of color surrounding blue-green that suggests water, with a circular moat juxtaposed to an inner box. That leaves the interpretation up to the viewer to explain, whether broad or narrow. A viewer, as in all artwork, will bring their experience to the moment and draw a personal conclusion about the meaning of this work.
The painting, The Fight for Ukraine, is an example of creating art that draws attention to a current European event on everyone’s mind. What might be at first glance abstract, on a closer look, the viewer sees the bands of blue and yellow under siege with aerial bombardment resulting in the symbolism of the Russian armed invasion. The painting incorporates gouache, crayon, and India Ink, with watercolor to form a multimedia expression. Print sales from the original are currently being donated to first responders of the Ukrainian Army.
Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University in 1974 and has been painting for over five decades. He is the recent President Emeritus of the Michigan Watercolor Society and holds a Signature Member and Great Lakes Fellow designation in that group. He also has membership in the National Watercolor Society, the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA), and the Brighton Art Guild. Rocco Pisto earned a Bachelor’s and Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University.
The solo 50-year retrospective at the Flagstar Strand Gallery in Pontiac will run through March 31, 2023.