Herbert Gentry

Herbert Gentry - © Hans van der Kamp

Herbert Gentry

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.

Hotel Chelsea

Hotel Chelsea © Hans van der Kamp

Hotel Chelsea © Hans van der Kamp
When I was young my biggest dream was to go to New York. I had read so much literature and had seen so many movies about New York, that I just had to go there and finally I went at age 25 thanks to an assignment for a Dutch magazine to interview and photograph the legendary photographer Art Kane.

I also knew where I was going to stay: the Hotel Chelsea. Not because of the Sex Pistols staying there occasionally, not because of the Grateful Dead, Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs. No, just because of one Leonard Cohen song entitled Chelsea Hotel:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / you were talking so brave and so sweet / giving me head on the unmade bed /while the limousines wait in the street

That was the life to live, at least in the perception of a 25 year old photographer. I never got to see the limousines in the street. 23rd Street at that time was not a very classy place to be, but I did enjoy my stay there tremendously.