"Robert De Niro, Sr. Paintings and Drawings, 1960-1993"
The New York Times, Arts Section, April 20, 2012:
By Roberta Smith
In the expanding field of postwar American painting, more room should be made for the seductive yet rigorous art of Robert De Niro Sr. (1922-1993). De Niro, whose son is the movie star, studied with Josef Albers at Black Mountain Collegeand with Hans Hofmann in New York and Providence, R.I. He made his solo debut at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1946 and showed regularly in the 1950s at the Charles Egan Gallery, alongside de Kooning, Rothko and Kline.
By 1960, the starting point of this exhibition, he had made abstraction the setting for a loosely figurative art, painting the thick outlines of nudes, still lifes and rooftops among briskly improvised expanses of bright color.
On first sight, De Niro’s paintings and drawings can seem overly indebted to the School of Paris. In particular, you could say that he pledged allegiance to Fauvism and Matisse and never broke his vows. But his paintings, especially, have their own touch, eloquence and integrity, as well as a bluntness of scale and brushwork that easily identifies them as postwar American.
His surfaces are so lively they almost seem suspended in air. They court a kind of excess, as suggested by the overbearing blooms of “Table Still Life With Red Vases, Fan and Bowl,” from 1968, or by the almost cryptic outlines of “Studio Interior With Three Chairs and Yellow Bureau,” of 1969.
They are slyly cartoonish, paying homage, but also exceeding and even parodying their sources. They can be connected to Roy Lichtenstein’s riffs on Matisse’s paintings and William N. Copley’s bright, folkish brand of Pop Art, as well as — a more usual analogy — the painterly figuration of David Park.
To cite another customary association, and give some indication of the upgrade that De Niro’s art deserves, I’ll take it over the fripperies of Larry Rivers any day.