In style, subject matter, quality and inspiration, Keith Rocco’s work evokes the masters of narrative, historical art: N.C. Wyeth, de Neuville and Pyle. An American painter and storyteller, Rocco has continued their legacy, creating visually stunning works which capture the drama of history, recording with care and nuance the details of his vision. It is a vision that has moved him through a lifetime to become one of the country’s most sought after narrative painters today.

Rocco’s passion for history and art began early. At the age of nine, for Christmas he talked his parents into getting him The Golden Book of the Civil War he had spied in a local five & ten. The book, filled with photos and drawings, inspired the budding, young artist to meticulously copy the pictures. At that time in life, he knew little of the traditions of historical art; research accuracy, emotion and artistic vision, yet instinctively as a child, he practiced the tenets of the craft as if he knew that someday it would be his future.

A love for history and passion for art saw Rocco through the usual turmoil of adolescence, when he sold his first works, copies of the masters, to his high school teacher. At age 14 he began what today has become a solid collection of Civil War and Napoleonic artifacts along with an eclectic mix of costuming from a variety of periods. To finance his collection through his teens, Rocco sold copies of his drawings through classified ads in historical publications. A cavalry saber, his first buy, still sits beside a cabinet crammed with the fruits of years of acquisitions.

It is these small and seemingly insignificant artifacts that peak Rocco’s imagination. They provide the textual substance that bonds his readings and research with life. “There is no better way to achieve an insight into a period and its people than by holding an artifact in your hands. For the artist, if you don’t know the grade of cloth used on a garment you can’t understand how it will hang or fold. It is the manufacturing processes and available materials of a period that are most crucial to recreating the essence of an era.” says Rocco.

The work that goes into one of Rocco’s canvasses is prodigious. Because he never puts brush to canvas without exhaustive research, he finds he must begin his planning months and occasionally years before he may start a painting. This work often requires the help of professional historians and museum curators worldwide. Detectives for information thought to be lost to time, they often help in unusual ways. The small cup of earth on his studio shelf, for instance, was sent to confirm the color of the soil at Jamestown Colonial site.

The result of all this research and work has been gold for Rocco’s art. In 1985 Rocco was proclaimed by the French magazine Uniformes, as an “artist in the tradition of Remington and Detaille.” His works currently hang in every major collection of historical art in the country and several abroad. These include the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Pentagon, the Atlanta Historical Society, the House of Representatives, Gettysburg National Park, the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia, the National Guard Heritage Collection, the U.S. Army War College and numerous private collections. In 1992, Rocco set about producing the largest paintings of his career to date with a commission to create 3 murals for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison which opened in June of 1993. Yet this project was dwarfed in scale by the 1999 completion of Pamplin Historical Park for which he created over 4,000 square feet of murals divided among six individual paintings. In 2003, he designed the centerpiece mural “Gettysburg”, for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. University of Illinois Press, University of Georgia Press, Chapel Hill, Military History, American History Illustrated, Napoleon Journal, Soldats Napoleonien, Le Livre Chez Vous and other publishing houses have all featured his work on their covers and dust jackets.

Rocco’s paintings have been displayed in special exhibits across the country, including the 1992 Birth of a Nation exhibition in Washington, D.C., and a one man show entitled On Campaign at the Cyclorama Building in Gettysburg National Park in 1994. His talents have not gone unnoticed by that most critical institution responsible for keeping this nation’s history preserved, the National Park Service. Numerous contracts have been awarded to Rocco by the Park’s Design Center on the strength of his mastery of figure painting and understanding of historic subjects.
His painterly and fluid style and extensive research of his subject has made Rocco one of the nation’s most respected narrative artists. His characters are a visual looking glass onto the endless variety of human nature; a nature which can be as noble as it can be brutal. It is this honest rendition of subject along with a painting tradition reminiscent of the best that America has produced, that keeps Rocco in the forefront of his contemporaries. Originally from Illinois, today Keith Rocco lives and paints in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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