Robert De Niro’s favourite new painter
Find out more about the New York painter RH Quaytman, winner of the 2016 Robert De Niro Sr. Prize
Robert De Niro’s dad, Robert De Niro Senior, was a painter. As the late artist’s estate puts it, De Niro Sr.’s work “blended abstract and expressionist styles of painting with traditional representational subject matter, bridging the divide between European Modernism and Abstract Expressionism.”
In this respect, the actor and the winner of the 2016 Robert De Niro Sr. Prize, which honours an outstanding mid-career US painter, have something in common. RH Quaytman is the daughter of Harvey Quaytman, a fellow New Yorker and artist, who painted beautiful, hard-edged abstract works during the latter half of the 20th century.
While De Niro Jr. went into the dramatic arts, RH took up her father’s vocation. Bob Nickas writes in our book Painting Abstraction that “Quaytman acknowledges the importance of her father’s influence and identifies it as a foundation on which she built her work, but she also sees it as something she needs to “destroy symbolically”. On this she quotes Slavoj Zizek: “Every father is a figure who failed to live up to his mandate, and thus left his son to settle his symbolic debts.”
To put it another way, Quaytman creates paintings that take on similar artistic challenges, albeit in very different times. Her works are less about what one sees, and more about how one sees. The sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract paintings include elements of photography, printing making, and occasionally Spinel Black, the pigment that is used to coat stealth bombers. She also catalogues her works according to her own “chapters” system, which relates to the site where the paintig was first exhibited, and serves as a kind of personal art history. There’s plenty of knotty research and art theory in her paintings too, yet that doesn’t stop them from being quite beautiful to look at.
"The conceptual rigor of Quaytman's work is matched by a surprising emotional sensitivity and timbre,” said Scott Rothkopf, Deputy Director for Programs and Nancy & Steve Crown Family Chief Curator at the Whitney and one of the Robert De Niro Sr. Prize selection committee. “Her paintings eloquently evoke a poetic sensibility and range of moods that can feel almost expressionistic despite their often mechanical and mediated means."
Quaytman will receive $25,000 in prize money, courtesy of De Niro’s Tribeca Film Institute, at a award ceremony tomorrow, 14 Deceember, in New York.
For more on RH Quaytman order a copy of Painting Abstraction, for more on her dad get our Harvey Quaytman monograph. And for more on another artist among Robert De Niro Jr.’s favourites, take a look at our JR book.