Genre: Documentary / Art History
Synopsis: Lively portrait of NYC artist and provocateur Robert Cenedella.
Special Features: n/a
Originally a project inaugurated by producer Chris Concannon, Art Bastard went through production spurts over several years until veteran editor Victor Kanefsky came on board and supervised its completion, ultimately becoming the film’s director after organizing the footage into a thorough and balanced narrative that traces the life of artist Robert Cenedella.
Cenedella is quite extraordinary, both in the art world and his personal life, often being a rebel with strong convictions and a wicked sense of humour that sometimes generated controversy (notably his Santa Claus painting, which was quickly yanked from public display after its commission and completion).
Cenedella’s chief influence and mentor was artist George Grosz, a German ex-pat who taught at The Art Student League of New York after fleeing Nazi Germany. Grosz’ style was ripe with social and political commentary, aspects that similarly fuel Cenedella’s work which takes raw, satirical pokes at the American political establishment.
When abstract art became vogue and dealers attempted to influence painters, Cenedella stepped away from painting outright, ultimately landing a ‘straight’ job with an ad agency where his flair for conceptualizing an idea in stark visual terms proved useful. He then founded a poster company which sold both reproductions of stills, movie posters, and custom posters with more politicized imagery before eventually returning to painting with a vengeance, creating epic works that are characterized as massive friezes of an event – a street brawl, a boxing match – and where the meaning isn’t it the painting’s central action, but the reactions of surrounding spectators.
Part folk art, classicism, social commentary, and irreverent op ed, Cenedella’s art mandates patience, a sense of humour, and a perceptive eye to enjoy the nuances of the myriad characters that populate his portraits. Director Kanefsky draws from archives to support the various interviews, and expertly weaves through Cenedella’s life as a youth, a provocateur, his father’s being blacklisted by HUAC, and the familial revelation that to an extent affected his sense of self.
Art Bastard is also the story of a NYC artist who’s managed to inadvertently preserve part of the city’s urban history that no longer exists after heavy upscale condo and corporate developments, making both the film and the artist’s paintings vivid friezes of an ever- changing cultural environment.
It’s also an expertly edited work, and a textbook example on how to construct a perfectly paced cinematic portrait that informs, entertains, and leaves audiences ready to delve into Cenedella’s art.
Coming shortly: a lengthy podcast interview with director Victor Kanefsky.
Art Bastard is currently screening at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema until Friday October 21.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review