“How Robert De Niro Jr. Is Shaped by the Artistic Sensibilities of His Father”
Architectural Digest, October 3, 2019:
By Jane Levere
The legendary actor Robert De Niro Jr. continues to win plaudits for his work, most recently for his portrayal of the title character in Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman, which had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival last week.
What is not necessarily so well-known about the actor, however, is that he has deep ties to his father, Robert De Niro Sr. (1922–1993)—a member, with Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, of the New York School of painters, as well as a poet—and his efforts to honor and maintain the legacy of his father’s work and talents.
One example of these efforts was the documentary Remembering the Artist, Robert De Niro Sr., which debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. In 2011, the actor also established a prize in honor of his father that recognizescontributions of a mid-career American painter; last year it was presented to Henry Taylor.
De Niro’s latest labor of love for his father will be revealed next week: On October 8, Rizzoli will publish the first comprehensive monograph on the painter, Robert De Niro Sr.: Paintings, Drawings, and Writings: 1942–1993. The book features 150 color illustrations of works in private collections and museums; De Niro Sr.’s writing and poetry, some never seen before; many unpublished photographs; an introduction by his son; and essays by painters and experts, including Robert Storr, Charles Stuckey, Robert Kushner, and Susan Davidson. DeNiro Jr. and Storr also will appear at 92Y in New York on October 7 to discuss the new book and De Niro’s recollections of his father.
In a phone interview with AD, the younger De Niro says that he chose to make the documentary and maintain his father’s studio in SoHo “for my kids, my kids’ kids. My older kids knew him, but my younger kids didn’t, and I want my grandkids, my great-grandkids all to be aware of who their grandfather was, their great-grandfather, that he was a genuine artist and a wonderful artist."
“My father’s work,” he adds, “was special, period. There’s no other way to say it: If you look at it, you see that it was not done in a perfunctory way.” He also says his father was “very careful” about what he produced, trying to make it “perfect,” a trait he called “unique to him and to who he was.”
De Niro Jr. is asked “a lot” whether he also paints, noting, “I just was never interested, [just as] my kids aren’t interested in [doing] what I do.” He also says his two youngest children, who are now in their early 20s, “were terrific artists when they were young. I always tried to get one of them to consider doing stuff, even in fashion, because their uncle Willi Smith was a fashion designer.”
Looking back, De Niro Jr. explains that his father and mother, the painter Virginia Admiral, "were the kind of parents who weren’t going to oppose my wanting to be an actor.” Although he says he doesn’t know whether they had a direct influence on him professionally, he believes he could have been affected by his father’s “sensibility in some way, my mother’s sensibility. I’m part of who they are, and in some way, they have had influences even that I’m unaware of, or unconscious of.”
De Niro Sr.’s art will be on display from November 14 through December 21, when DC Moore, the gallery in NYC's Chelsea neighborhood that represents his estate, will show six of his works in an installation called “Intensity in Paint.” The show, according to the gallery, showcases the artist’s “mastery in imbuing the canvas with vitality and brilliance through his post-fauve chromatic compositions." Other works can be seen year-round in the lobby, lounges, and guest rooms of the Greenwich Hotel and its restaurant, Locanda Verde, and in the Tribeca Grill—all owned by De Niro Jr. (The artist’s work even decorates menus in both restaurants.)
“Art is made to be seen and experienced," De Niro Jr. writes in his introduction to the new book. “Throughout his life, my father believed that his work would outlast him, and that it would continue to find new and appreciative viewers in the years to come. This book is my way of helping make that happen."