Painter, sculptor and poet Robert De Niro, Sr. was a substantial contributor to post-war American art for his dedication to painterly representation. While his contemporaries eschewed the figurative style of the Old Masters, De Niro reveled in it. Yet, he manipulated this representative imagery in highly imaginative ways, using reality as a framework in which to evolve his intensely expressive brushstrokes and colors. This vivid, innovative, representational work established De Niro as a distinct figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Although influenced by the gestural panting of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, De Niro’s aesthetic was primarily shaped through the subjects and styles of France’s 19th-century artists and early Modernist painters of Europe.
De Niro helped to establish painterly representation as a specific, unique style in its own right, rather than a simple extension of existing European and American methods.
The ongoing friction between reality and abstraction in De Niro’s paintings sets them apart from those of his contemporaries. Almost all his works are representational, but they are also very expressive, making bold, imaginative use of color, lines and brushstrokes
In the words of Robert De Niro, Sr.
If I am forced to repeat, until near exhaustion, the same charcoal line over and over again or the same brushstroke while I paint, it is because I am nothing but an “old nag” who knows himself too well and who must endlessly find ways to surprise himself. Not, as many of my colleagues do, by accelerating my gestures in the hope of discovering, as if by accident, surprising bits that I might be able to use later. A comfortable technique that has proven itself, but which I was always careful to be wary of. Just as Hans Hofmann, my former professor, taught me when I was so young, I immediately erase without the least regret anything pretty or particularly good that has appeared on the canvas.
Actor Robert De Niro has established a $25,000 annual prize for a U.S. painter in honor of his artist father.