Robert Cenedella has been painting New York City scenes with verve, sarcasm, and irony since the 1960s. A contemporary of Andy Warhol, Cenedella never received Warhol’s accolades, but his cheeky paintings of populated cityscapes are provocative and part of New York’s creative fabric. The artist finally receives his due, in Victor Kanefsky’s documentary, Art Bastard.

Robert Cenedella’s early days

Robert Cenedella has always had a rebellious streak, and it shows in his raucous work.

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Born to prickly parents – his father was a blacklisted writer in the 1950s, who later turned out not to be Cenedella’s father. Perhaps because of his uncertain identity, Cenedella questioned everything about his life and authority, and soon found himself kicked out of high school after writing an essay on the ridiculousness of the atom bomb drills in the classroom. But Cenedella was always passionate about art, and gravitated to the Art Students League of New York. He studied under acclaimed German expressionist George Grosz.

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Cenedella’s artworks

At first glance, one might view Cenedella’s painting as comedic – large, color saturated drawings of crowds of characters from all walks of life. But on closer look these paintings deploy a deeper meaning – politics, social relationships, greed, violence may all play a role. With a nod to his mentor Grosz and German expressionism, Cenedella portrays the underbelly of societal mores. His paintings are energetic and complex, like the artist.

Highlights of Cenedella’s vast library of work

Art Bastard certainly captures the troublemaker side of Cenedella and his place within the art world, especially the New York art scene of these past five decades. Interviewing critics, family members, fellow artists, clients and friends, writer/director Kanefsky paints the multi-faceted life of a working artist who hasn’t found the recognition he perhaps deserves.

Seemingly trying to right this shortcoming, Kanefsky urges viewers to appreciate the artist by offering up numerous, high-octane works of Cenedella.

Cenedella’s artwork is indeed fascinating. Yet, one can’t help but be semi-frustrated by the sprawling nature of the narrative presented through both the repetition and the odd gaps in the documentary’s storytelling. Luckily Cenedella’s paintings are the film’s strength, which will please art enthusiasts.

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Art Bastard is 84 minutes and Not Rated. It opens June 17 in Los Angeles.

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