An inquisitive young boy stares for hours in an aquarium. He is mesmerized by the fish, how they move, shimmer and shine in different light. Shadows, how they are cast and what light does moving through water. This is what an artist does: observe.
To the rest of the world, pasta is a delicious Italian delicacy. In Islamorada, if you mention pasta, you’ll be directed to local artist Roberto “Pasta” Pantaleo. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he got his nickname due to his heavy Italian accent and trouble pronouncing his last name, Pantaleo.
In the urban jungle, Pasta dreamed of a better life, and one that included painting sport fish and tropical waters.
Pasta has become a staple in Islamorada for over 20 years; his gallery is located near the entrance to the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. Pasta – with his bubbly personality, black-rimmed glasses, long hair and freshly trimmed goatee – feels like an artistic sage. He recently presented his new art in a grand fashion at the Russell Gallery at Ocean Sotheby’s International Realty. I met Pantaleo here to see his latest works.
When an artist has been around this long, they tend to work on their legacy. Pasta’s new collection carefully showcases his abilities and gives us an idea of where he wants to take art next.
Pasta art is mostly focused on sport fishing. His paintings of sailfish, marlin and tarpon dazzle in his usual manner, the fish have an electrifying movement. One of the best ways to describe it is that you really get a sense of how the fish moves and its personality when you see its art.
Pasta likes to experiment; a few years ago he made fish with brighter than normal colors and unusual color combinations. With this exhibition, the paintings combine dramatic movement with a creative sense of color. The Sunrise Rooster, a painting of a sailboat, looks like an old dramatic pasta, but with bold and exciting colors.
He continues his play with color in “Tarpon Squared,” in which he takes a traditional tarpon jumping out of the water and changes the picture by giving it eight different colored quadrants. The paste also plays with color, taking it away and focusing on individual colors and giving us an overall mood.
He teases us with a picture of a sailboat called “Azul,” the Spanish word for blue, and the picture is done in different shades of blue. Then you have the ‘Biggie’, a big piece of blue marlin done almost entirely in grayscale. The piece works in interesting ways, the lack of color adds wisdom and drama to the fish. If you look at the background, you’ll notice that the water is done in a way that looks almost tribal.
“It’s about the purity of things. This is something that is essential to what I do. If I’m playing music or riding my motorcycle, it’s about the purity of art and the purity of sport fishing,” said Pasta.
The “Fly Zone” features two tarpon that feel like you can swim right next to them. It wasn’t just about the fish. Pasta creates almost dreamlike seascapes when he presents the waters off Islamorada with his triptych “Sea La Vie” and large format “Rum Front”. The surprise of the show is a collaboration between Pasta and local photographer Tim Rahn, The Camera and the Brush. The work features a photograph of a pink shoveler wading in the water, surrounded by a large clump of mangroves. Mangroves transform from photograph to painting, creating a window into a painted and photographed reality.
Pasta has come a long way from studying the light and shadows of fish in the aquarium. The young boy from Brooklyn is living his dreams by being able to paint his fish in paradise. I asked Pasta what the future holds for him. He looked at me knowing the answer but not wanting to let us know yet.
“It’s going to be great, I’m focusing on it, Islamorada. It will be back to basics, to the roots, but better,” he said.
Pasta’s work can be found at his signature gallery at 81599 Old Highway, Islamorada or online at artbypasta.com.
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