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.
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.
I am often asked if I have more photographs of the photo session with Bill Haley from 1979 and if there are any real vintage silver prints available. As for the latter, unfortunately not. I know there must be some afloat at magazines who never returned them, but I only have the negatives and one or two silver prints I would like to keep to myself.
Of all my negatives only about 10% has been scanned for digital printing. But apart from the square portrait of Bill Haley showcased on this site, I do have this other one posted below and I have set the limited edition to 50.
I like it a lot. He is relaxed. The security people were sent to wait outside. He is wearing his off-stage glasses, rarely seen on publicity pictures.