Robert De Niro

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen

Robert De Niro
 

Robert De Niro Sr’s studio, New York 2015


 

Robert De Niro
 

Robert De Niro and his father, New York, c 1983
© Angelo Novi, Courtesy DC Moore Gallery

 
 

Interview with Robert De Niro
 

Mart Engelen: What does your father’s studio mean to you today? And what will its role be in the future—apart from being a way to keep his memory alive and to show to your children and grandchildren?
Robert De Niro: In some ways I would love it to be there as long as it can. For the family, of course. So it stays a unique place. Somehow to be preserved as a studio, in homage, for artists of my father’s generation. And what it was, to show how my father worked and lived. Maybe a kind of museum; it could be like a place for writers or artists to stay. A kind of place with a cultural destination. Whether that will happen, I don’t know. But that could be a possibility. I’d really like to keep it as long as possible.
ME: It’s quiet amazing that SoHo still has these hidden places. Can you tell me what this area looked like in the sixties and seventies?
RDN: That neighbourhood was much different than it is now. There were warehouses; trucks were parked everywhere. It was not industrial, but there were a lot of bakeries and other businesses. It was not residential at all.
ME: What moved you the most when you were documenting the studio?
RDN: Actually, the whole thing was moving, if you will. The things he had there. And I am happy that I preserved it, because there was a time that I thought that maybe I would
have to give it up. So I documented it, videotaped, filmed and so on. But it’s not the same thing. Then I had a big family reunion, with friends, close family friends, to sort of say
goodbye to the space but I couldn’t do it and I held on to it. If I had said goodbye, I wouldn’t even have had his space for the documentary.
ME: After reading parts of his diaries, documenting his studio and remembering him as you grew up, how would you describe your father as a person?
RDN: He had a good sense of humour. He was romantic in one way and very cynical about things in another way. Especially about people affecting certain airs of being something that they weren’t.
ME: What is your favourite among your father’s works?
RDN: I like many but, for instance, we have one in our apartment called ‘A woman in red’. Actually, we found this one only a few years ago. That’s one of my favourites.
ME: Your father was a very gifted artist but in life only a very few artists become known to a broad audience and enjoy the essential level of recognition. Is maintaining the studio and
making the documentary also a way of making up for your father’s lack of recognition?
RDN: Well, you can sort of say it that way. If he was more recognized, I suppose I would not have to do this. You know, the documentary was done as a thing only for family and friends. I did the documentary to have it as a document. Then HBO came to me and looked at it and said, “We’d like to air it”, and that’s how it got to that point. The original intention was not to make it for HBO or somebody else. I didn’t know how long the documentary would be, it could have been one hour, it could have been three hours. I did what I did at the time.
ME: How would you like your father to be remembered?
RDN: To me he was a great artist. Remember him for that. And it’s also very important to be remembered by his grandchildren, great-grandchildren. That’s very important. To have a sense of tradition, of who their grandfather was.
ME: How would you like to be remembered?
RDN: That’s a tougher one. (laughs).
ME: Finally, what does art mean to you?
RDN: I think art is a kind of distillation of different perceptions of the world. This is what an artist has. And for people who are not in that world and don’t really participate much in that world to appreciate that different perception, expression. So they can have a look at it from a different perspective, an artist’s perspective. Especially good artists can give something a beauty. And make people realise that beauty in things that are normally taken for granted. That, for instance, is one thing that art can do.
ME: Thank you for this conversation.
RDN: Thank you.
 
—Copyright 2015 Mart Engelen