Robert De Niro Sr.
I didn’t realize when I worked with the painter, Bob De Niro, back in the 80’s that I was working with the father of Robert De Niro, the actor. He was a good looking gentleman so you would think that I would have put two and two together. I was mesmerized with him as an artist. The West Virginia Arts and Humanities brought him in for a workshop at the Huntington Art Museum. I was in graduate school and my professor, June Kilgour, highly recommended that I attend the workshop.
June Kilgour, who was also the head of the art department, had studied at Pratt and worked with George McNeill. McNeill had studied alongside Hans Hoffman at the New York School. With such influences, I felt immersed in the Abstract Expressionist movement and still do to this day. I got to work with McNeill a few times when we were in New York. Like jazz, Abstract Expressionist was the first American movement that was all American. So, when I found out that De Niro had worked with Hofmann, I was all in.
De Niro spoke the romantic language of Abstract Expressionism. He also spoke about Josef Albers. I find myself especially drawn to Albers work with color theory. Much to my surprise, he mentioned that he was of Irish and Italian descent. My father was Irish, having come over on the Potato boats, and the two were close in age. Nevertheless, De Niro was different from anyone I had ever met, a very kind gentleman. I was attracted to his cultural elegance. Though we didn’t talk much that weekend, I remember the awe I felt for him. He represented, to me, Abstract Expressionism.
De Niro held on to a formalism that was lost in the work of DeKooning or Pollock. He brought a gestural quality to his work. He spoke about Hofmann and Matisse, though his work reminded me of Gorky’s artwork (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arshile_Gorky) more than Hofmann. Some of his work was figurative and some non-representational. You could see the European influence on his work and yet he was breaking out of the pure European style into a style that was truly his own. He talked about the struggle he undertook in accomplishing that. I admire this, having worked my entire career establishing a signature style of my own. Back in those days creating your unique personal style was critical, you didn’t appropriate.
Another thing that impressed me was that he showed in the big name galleries. For one, I remember that he had a show with Peggy Guggenheim. She was such an icon in the art world at this time. He also mentioned one of my all-time favorite authors, Anais Nin. Her journals connected me to the Feminist Movement and helped me to understand that I could live and work a creative work style as a woman. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaïs_Nin)
If you would like to learn more, his son takes on the responsibility of introducing you to his father and his work in the video below.