In My Father's Studio

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert De Niro

Finding beauty--and mystery--in my dad's legacy.

When my father passed away I kept his studio as is. I even have his dry cleaning hanging in the closet in bags. My mother had given him the studio--originally two apartments--and I wanted to keep it in the family. When my three sons, now teenagers, were born, I'd take them there every few years to see what their grandfather did so they'd get a real impression of what he accomplished and how he lived. You can take photos and document it, but it's not the same as keeping his workplace intact.

I put some of his work in my restaurants, including Locanda Verde, Tribeca Grill, and five or six pieces in Nobu on Hudson Street. My father wasn't ever trustful of dealers, except for this one guy, Larry Salander, and the irony is that he's now away in prison for taking advantage of my father. But my father agreed to display his work in the restaurants, and then I asked him to design the menu at Tribeca Grill and some of the coasters at Nobu, and he did that and I was surprised. People told me he used to go sit in a booth with friends at Tribeca Grill and was proud of his work that hung there. The pieces are impressive, and he worked very hard on them.

When I was about 5, I went to visit Macy's to see Santa Claus and when I came home there was a huge fire in my mother's apartment, so some artwork was lost. I wasn't living with my father then. I was living with my mother and I would see him every few weeks, or sometimes I'd run into him in the street and we'd talk. We had a connection, but it was not one of going out and playing baseball together. He was an artist and lived on his own. He did take me to the movies, like King Kong and other black-and-white films at the arthouses on 42nd Street. He even tried to paint me many times when I was younger, but I wouldn't sit still. Although I was very proud of what my father was doing, I just wasn't interested at the time. I was busy being a kid, just living my life and not thinking about family stuff. Especially having children and grandchildren now, I always try to tell the kids how important it is to take advantage of moments that I wish I'd taken advantage of with my father. He always wanted to take me to the opening of a show, but when I was young, it wasn't something I wanted to do. As time goes on, I realize that I should have said yes.

When I was 17, my father was doing very well and wanted to go to France. His going-away party was held on the Queen Mary. I loved traveling and wanted to go to Europe, so about a year later, I tried to get a job in the Merchant Marine but I had no clout, so I was fourth class. I couldn't move up the ladder, so I just wound up taking Icelandic Airlines to Europe, and then I hitchhiked to where he was living in central France in the Loire Valley, and I stayed with him for a week.

I went back about two years later, and was trying to convince him to come back to New York because I felt that he had lost some of his career momentum. …