Art Bastard (2016)
Cast includes: Robert Cendella
Director: Victor Kanefsky (Nightmare Man, Style Wars)
Genre: Documentary | Biography | Art | Humor (82 minutes)
As the jazz drumbeat gives way to honking horns, arguing, shouting, sirens and babies crying, we see a montage of paintings that capture the chaos and grit of New York City, going back to the 60s. The journey of the artist, Robert (Bob) Cendella, started in the 1940s. “I always thought Mom and Dad liked you better,” says Bob’s sister, adding, “but I worried about how you’d get by.” We see a little drawing, entitled “Flowers.” It shows the irony of a couple arguing across an oversized bouquet of flowers. In the drawing, Bob’s parents are arguing about moving to New York. Bob’s father had had an excellent career as a writer until he was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He wasn’t a communist, but when asked to declare as much, his response was, “None of your god-damn business.” After being blacklisted and falling into poverty, life changed for the Cendella. Bob still remembers something odd Mom said during the argument… “Bobby isn’t even yours.”
He might not have totally understood that comment at the time, but he internalized a lifelong sense of being an outsider. He used his artwork “as a shrink,” drawing what he saw walking around… the sights, energy, reality, culture and humor… although Bob’s idea of humor is always steeped in irony. As a reaction to the popularity of the Beetles, he created and sold a button with “I Like Ludwig,” over a drawing of Beethoven. He sold so many that he could afford to go to the Art Student’s League and study with George Grosz, the famous German social realist who had escaped the Nazis. Grosz helped Canedella take his art to a different level, incorporating politics and social commentary. “Draw what you see, not what you know.” Had Cendella been the same age as Grosz, he almost certainly would have been just as famous. But Cendella began his career just as abstract expressionism was becoming all the rage. “You’ve missed the boat. This kind of art is over with.” But it wasn’t over with for Cendella. In the meantime, his Mother had a bombshell for him when he turned 21. “Your father isn’t your father.” “Is it Russ?” Bob guessed.
Art Bastard shows us the many sides of Robert Cendella’s genius, personality and passion. We see the influences of Dad (Cendella), the real father (Russ Speirs) and his spiritual father (George Grosz). We see how Cendella responded to political, societal and personal events. You may not have heard of Robert Cendella before seeing this film, but you’ll easily see that he is a significant artist. And you’ll wonder why his work is still easier to find on the walls of a pub than in a museum. In 1965, his Yes Art Show put him at odds with many art critics because it shined a light on the hype and influence of big money on what passes for art. Art Bastard isn’t an ordinary artist biopic. It’s clever and engaging… much like the artist you’ll meet. Beyond that, it adds insight into the age-old question, “What is art?” Oscar Wilde once said, “People nowadays know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” About what the critics like and what museums show, Robert Cendella says this: “It’s not what they show; it’s what they don’t show.” Long after today’s trending artists have become passé, a Robert Cendella painting will still have a voice… and for that reason, value.
4 popped kernels
Robert Cendella might well be the most important artist you’ve never heard of
Gender Style: Bold
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Robert Cendella
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking