Artist Herbert Gentry (1919-2003) made vibrant expressionist paintings of figures and faces, mixing global influences and African American experience. Referring to his childhood during the Harlem Renaissance, Gentry asserted, ‘Harlem prepared me for Paris.’ After completing military service in World War II, Herb Gentry returned to Paris for art school – and found himself in the heart of the expatriate American community in Montparnasse. Gentry moved to Scandinavia in 1959, but always kept a studio in Paris. In 1969, he returned to New York and became a resident of the famous Hotel Chelsea. At home on both continents, Herbert Gentry resided, painted and exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic. His work is represented in important national and international museum collections.
[ source: HerbertGentry.com ]
Looking at this portrait of Herbert Gentry with a friend of whom I have unfortunately forgotten the name I can see now how much I was influenced by American photographers at the time. The Hotel Chelsea looks quite seedy on this particular picture, but at that time this was one of the better rooms. There were cockroaches everywhere and Mr. Bard proprietor of the hotel had a hard time convincing people that ‘nobody ever died in this hotel’. Despite the deaths of Dylan Thomas and later Sid Vicious’ lover Nancy Spungen and many others. Although we have to give Mr. Bard some credit for the fact that most were pronounced dead on the way to or in a hospital nearby.
Born 1899 in Paris, René Shapsak studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, London, Bruxelles, emigrated to South Africa in 1932 or 1934, lived in Johannesburg (47 Saunders Street, Yeoville – where he held art classes for many years), executed numerous commissions, was committee member of the Transvaal Art Society, Johannesburg, 1937; left for the USA in 1954, his wife Eugenie and sons Leon, Maurice and Paul followed in August, 1955, the family staying for years at the famous Hotel Chelsea, with an atelier nearby at 219 7th Ave corner 23rd Street, New York NY. [source: Art Archives South Africa ]
Dr. René Shapsak was photographed by me in the Hotel Chelsea in 1981, four years before he died in 1985. Very few have heard of this artist. Yet he did sculptures of Mahatma Chandi and John Cecil Rhodes in Great Britain. His work of Ellen Church Marshall, the American Florence Nightingale, stands in the headquarters of United Airlines in Chicago, and Bas-Reliefs of her are in the leading air terminals throughout the United States and around the world. The State of Israel has acknowledged with gratitude Dr. Shapshak’s sculpture of former President Harry S. Truman, which is in the Israeli Parliament Building.
Surely Dr. Shapsak was not an easy man to deal with. He was a teacher at heart. He told me many interesting stories about the people of his time like Arthur Rubinstein, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. But to listen to him, I had to get up extremely early in the morning, refrain from smoking and have breakfast with him at the Greek coffee shop at the corner of 23rd Street. I still own the recordings I made during these breakfast meetings.