Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.

Synopsis: Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated painter obscured by the pop-art movement. His life and career are chronicled in the artist's own words by his contemporaries and, movingly, by his son, the actor Robert De Niro.
Production: HBO Documentary
  1 nomination.
40 min


He was the real thing...

my father.

I see his work, I see

how dedicated he was.

He was, to me,

a great artist.

But you can't--you can

never impose that on people.

They have to make

their own decisions.

The thought of what

he's done, all his work,

I can't not but make sure that

it's held up and remembered...

so I just want to see him

get his due.

That's my responsibility.

And he used to always say that

artists are always recognized

after they're long gone.

Part of recognition

is, is luck.

You have no control

over those things,

and so if that's what's

going to happen

then your time, hopefully,

will come later,

and we don't even

know if then.

My father created

all this beautiful artwork.

I only have his stuff.

My mother's--

some of my mother's.

We had a good relationship.

He was very affectionate.

He was paternal.

He just didn't know certain

things as a father, what to do,

but he was a very

loving father.

I respected him a great deal

and knew his art was special.

He started at 5 years old.

He was very young.

He felt he was different,

and he was different,

not only as an artist,

for other reasons.

He was not conventional.

He was from a small town.

And he probably felt

a certain amount of

rejection from his father.

My grandfather was

classic, old-style,

kind of like, you know...

Italian American,

just, you know...

I just think he didn't

understand my father.


I wanted to be an artist since

the time I was in Kindergarten.

There was nobody

I could practically

talk to about painting.

I was very unhappy.

I went everyday and painted,

but I was miserable there,

had no friends.

Then I heard of Hofmann.

I decided to try him, and I

went to him the next summer.

And then it was quite different

because I was enthusiastic,

and I met people

that I thought like,

and it was a whole--

another world.

Prior to the Second World War,

the art scene

was all about Europe.

The surrealists were in Paris,

the Bauhaus was in Germany.

With the Second World War,

an interesting shift

came about here in

the United States,

especially in New York.

You had artists fleeing Europe

to come to New York for safety

and setting up schools.

And American artists are,

for the first time,

really having some

hands-on experience

with the most avant-garde

trends in painting

and architecture and design.


came from Germany

and set up a school

which then went on

for a very, very,

very long time.

And if you take all of the

Hofmann students, I mean,

it's an enormously long

and distinguished list.

Many, many, many really

first-rate artists

were his students or

proteges, in some cases.

It was 1942, and there were

4 or 5 of us in that class

with Hans Hofmann.

Not only Bob, but

Virginia, his wife.

Hofmann, when he'd look

at the work, he did say

that his two best students--

and he had so many famous

artists as students--

that Bob and Virginia were the

best students he ever had.

Big compliment.

Bob and Virginia

met at Hofmann's.

Virginia was very impressed

with Bob's work.

And so, they hit it off.

I think he was handsome

'cause he was a little taller.

He had really blond hair

for a long time.

And they had gotten

married and Bobby was a baby.

He was a baby on the floor.

And she's a very good

painter, Virginia Admiral--

vivacious, good-looking,

very good to Bobby,

and excellent person.

Virginia was the first one who

made it big when we got out.

She had a great exhibition

at a big gallery

called Art of This Century.

The famous critics

gave her rave reviews.

I think it's very

complex why she didn't

continue to paint.

I think she felt very guilty

that she wasn't painting,

'cause I think she admired Bob

for the fact that he just

didn't let anything

get in his way.

I don't really feel

she gave it up.

She just moved

to something else.

And maybe she felt she couldn't

really do it, ultimately,

or she was as far as she

could go as an artist.

Not that she didn't try. She was

doing things in her studio.

And her argument was always

that she needed to be

practical to support me.

When the son must have

been about a year old,

there was a big rift,

big rift.

Why they couldn't stay

together, they were different.

Maybe his sexuality.

I don't know where

that stood at that point.

My father wrote a lot about

his life in his journals,

which gives me an idea of

what he was going through.

"If God doesn't want me to be

a homosexual, about which I

have so much guilt,

"he will find a woman whom I

will love and who will love me

"or at least create

an interest in me

in women as sexual partners."

Obviously, I realize now

that it was hard for him.

He had a lot of what it

seems like classic

conflicts about all that.

My mother and I spoke

about it a little bit,

and he was very quiet

with whatever he did

'cause I never was--

He's not gonna tell me.

I'm his son, you know?

I'm the last

person to know.

And Bob said,

"I'm leaving.

"I...that's it.

I don't want to

stay here anymore."

And he got a place. I think

that's when he lived near me.

They divorced

when I was around 11 or 12,

but they separated when I was

around 2 or 3 or something.

My mother and father

were always friends,

and she always

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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