Art Bastard boasts exhaustive access to its subject, NYC painter Robert Cenedella, but Victor Kanefsky’s documentary nonetheless manages to be as cursory as it is intimate, skimming over so much of Cenedella’s life and career that it imparts only a hazy impression of who he is and what he believes.
A jovial, bearded figure who’s naturally comfortable discussing his process, his politics, and his upbringing, Cenedella is an artist whose paintings burst with bustling, combative life, be it his crowded Manhattan cityscapes or his enormous 1998 mural for the restaurant Le Cirque. His work has a full-bodied vitality that, no matter its visual exaggerations, captures that feeling of something like reality. (And, as with Father’s Day, the work can be highly personal.)
In somewhat abruptly edited chats, Cenedella discusses his tutelage under German painter George Grosz, his rebellion against the commercialization of art beginning in the post-WWII Fifties, and the way that a parental revelation — namely, that his father was actually a close family friend — informed his career.
Art Bastard comes close at times to being a captivatingly messy portrait of a daring voice, but its frustrating fleetness (especially with regard to Cenedella’s “Yes Art!” show, whose purpose is only vaguely explicated) means it’s too often a sketch.
Directed by Victor Kanefsky
Opens June 3, Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas