'It's substantial, it's good, it's real': Robert De Niro on his father's legacy as an artist

Actor Robert De Niro joined q's Tom Power to talk about his relationship with his father, the abstract expressionist painter, Robert De Niro Sr.
Actor Robert De Niro joined q's Tom Power from CBC's studio in New York. (Steven D'Souza/CBC)

You know Robert De Niro as one of the most-celebrated actors of his generation. From his breakthrough role in Mean Streets up to his latest film The Irishman, the two-time Oscar winner has a career that spans decades, but before he was known as an actor he had a different claim to fame: he was the son of Robert De Niro Sr., the abstract expressionist painter.

De Niro Sr. was a highly regarded but lesser-known member of the New York School of artists, along with Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. He had a 50-year career as a painter, which began with his very first solo show at the age of 24 in 1946.

As a gay man living through repressive times, De Niro Sr. struggled with feelings of guilt throughout his life. As an artist, he was fiercely independent and uncompromising, often working outside of the fashionable trends of the day. De Niro's mother, Virginia Admiral, was also a highly regarded artist. She separated from De Niro's father when the actor was very young, although they remained friends.

Robert De Niro, Sr.: Paintings, Drawings, and Writings: 1942-1993 (Rizzoli)

In recent years, De Niro Sr.'s career has been re-examined in the HBO documentary, Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. and now a new book collects much of his artwork and poetry, along with essays that put his work into context. It's called Robert De Niro, Sr.: Paintings, Drawings, and Writings: 1942-1993 and the introduction was written by De Niro.

The actor joined q's Tom Power from New York to talk about his relationship with his father and how he's honouring his legacy as an artist.

"He was dedicated, he was prolific and his work is real," said De Niro. "It's good. It's not flippant, it's substantial. When you look at his paintings, his black and whites, I have no other way of saying it it's substantial, it's good, it's real."

Download our podcast or click the 'Listen' link near the top of this page to hear the full conversation with Robert De Niro.

— Produced by Chris Trowbridge

Miss an episode of CBC q? Download our podcast.



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.