UB Yesterday: 1967

Robert De Niro Sr. paints Buffalo

Robert De Niro Sr., “House on Ellicott Creek, Buffalo, NY,” 1967-79, oil on gessoed panel, 24 x 30 inches. Photo: The estate of Robert De Niro, Sr., courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, NY. ©2015 estate of Robert De Niro, Sr./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

In 1967, UB was settling into its fifth year as part of SUNY, and what many say was the golden era for the humanities at the “Berkeley of the East.” Benefiting from the state’s largesse, UB had been hiring a who’s who of star faculty: painters, writers, poets, musicians and other innovative artists. Among them was award-winning poet Irving Feldman, who taught at UB from 1964 to 2004. 

In his third year in Buffalo, the National Book Award finalist and eventual MacArthur Fellow invited a friend from New York, Robert De Niro Sr. (1922-1993) to teach the first of six summer residencies at UB. Yes, that De Niro—father of the movie star. But the senior De Niro was more than that. Once a teenage protégé of the abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann, De Niro became a master in his own right, dabbling in poetry but known for his striking, figurative oil paintings.

Irving Feldman (left) and Robert De Niro Sr. in Washington Square Park, New York City, May 1954.

At UB, he created a series of works that captured the light and shadow of Buffalo’s summer landscapes. Many were on view, along with samples of Feldman’s poetry and the two men’s shared correspondence, at the UB Anderson Gallery last fall in a show celebrating their friendship. The paintings, such as “House on Ellicott Creek, Buffalo, NY” (above), exemplified De Niro’s signature bold brush and saturated, multilayered use of color. The exhibition also brought Feldman out from retirement to read from his work and, for an evening, relive those burnished years spent with his good friend Bob.