Robert De Niro, Sr.: Intensity in Paint: Installation of Six Works
November 14 – December 21, 2019
DC Moore Gallery is proud to present Robert De Niro, Sr.: Intensity in Paint, Installation of Six Works highlighting De Niro’s exploration of landscape. Over the course of his fifty-year career, Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922 – 1993) united his personal devotion to European modernism with the concurrent practices of Abstract Expressionism to produce paintings of a distinctive rich, visual experience. The works on view not only only typify De Niro’s painterliness and fluid brushwork, but most importantly showcase his mastery in imbuing the canvas with vitality and brilliance through his post-fauve chromatic composition.
DC Moore Gallery’s installation coincides with the release of the first monograph of Robert De Niro, Sr.’s work, published by Rizzoli Electa this October. The publication, Robert De Niro, Sr.: Paintings, Drawings and Writings: 1949-1993, with essays by Susan Davidson, Robert Storr, Charles Stuckey, and Robert Kushner, includes vivid reproductions of De Niro’s paintings, prints and drawings. Following an introduction by the artist’s son, Robert De Niro, Jr., never-before-seen passages from De Niro, Sr.’s personal journal and a selection of his poetry convey the depth of the artist’s passion for his work.
De Niro was born in 1922 in Syracuse, New York into an Irish-Italian family. By the young age of 11, De Niro began to take adult level classes at the Syracuse Museum of Art. In 1939, De Niro travelled to Provincetown to attend Hans Hofmann’s summer arts school, where he was exposed to Hofmann’s contemporaries in Paris; French modernists like Matisse, Rouault, Rousseau, and Bonnard. At Hofmann’s suggestion, De Niro continued his studies at Black Mountain College, where he studied under the tutelage of Josef Albers, formerly a professor at the famed Bauhaus. Moving to New York in 1942, De Niro was introduced to the budding Abstract Expressionist movement. There he returned to Hans Hofmann’s school and received financial support from Hilla Rebay, Director of Solomon Guggenheim’s Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Peggy Guggenheim gave De Niro his first solo-exhibition in 1946 at her revolutionary gallery, Art of This Century.
De Niro showed with galleries formative to the post-war New York School and has been associated with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, whose work while abstract was largely representational and figurative. De Niro came to form close relationships with these artists, yet he never was truly a part of their milieu. At a time when artists, dealers, and critics declared the need for a new, American modern art, De Niro instead found inspiration in the work of French Modernists and sought to carry forth their honored tradition. Robert Storr describes De Niro as an artist “who feels utterly at ease in art history and wants nothing more than to pay lively and inventive homage to the work they love.” Throughout his prolific career, De Niro never wavered from his almost spiritual calling to study the history of art and work in his authentic style.
While De Niro did not officially join the ranks of the Cedar Bar, he assimilated the artistic freedom and active painting process that defined Abstract Expressionism. De Niro painted wet-on-wet, meaning he had three days to work a canvas before the oil paint dried. Throughout De Niro’s oeuvre, there are few signs of revisional intervention after the paint had dried, meaning he worked in a singularly confident and continuous manner. Landscape with Road, n.d., a fine example of De Niro’s characteristically abstracted landscapes, showcases the fluid movements of his brush across the canvas. The texture of the paint reflects a certain degree of improvisation, tempered by control and careful consideration. The simplified architectural forms and broad areas of color create passages of representation through the brushy, thick application of oil paint. As the artist Robert Kushner states, “De Niro is at his best when his approach is Apollonian, art for art’s sake, with little or no troubling relationship to the nuanced complexities of the contemporary world.” As the Impressionists abstracted landscape as a means to study composition and application of paint, De Niro also emphasizes the act of painting in itself.
In the early 1960s, De Niro painted a series of self-portraits, including the one on view in this exhibition. Self Portrait, 1960, portrays the artist in an abstracted setting. The saturated, unnatural colors, reminiscent of German expressionism, suggest De Niro’s inner turmoil. In the background on the right side of the composition, a silhouetted figure looks upon the central figure. Perhaps it is an apparition of an older, knowing De Niro appraising his naïve former self. Also, likely, the outlined figure represents another self-portrait that De Niro was working on contemporaneously. The viewer glimpses an artist’s dark self-representation. Even in the most discouraging times of De Niro’s life, painting was his reprieve and salvation. The works of this installation bear witness to the greatest motivation of De Niro’s life, which was his boundless devotion to his work as a painter. As De Niro himself stated, “I am married to painting."
Robert De Niro, Sr. has work in many museum collections, including those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Everson Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Parrish Art Museum, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, National Academy Museum, amongst other esteemed collections. In 1968, De Niro received the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009, a retrospective of his work was presented at the Musée Matisse in Nice, France.
DC Moore Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Estate of Robert De Niro, Sr.