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 Robert D'Arista  (1929 - 1987)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia      Known for: mod figure-object other images

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Ad Code: 4
Robert D'Arista
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted by an anonymous student of the artist, is written an copyrighted by Daniel Kaufman, artist and writer. His website is:

A Teacher Remembered

Professor Robert D'Arista died on Monday, October 12 (1987). I don't know the cause. I haven't seen the man since I took his drawing class last year, except for once, about a month ago. We were walking in opposite directions in the School for the Arts. Happy to see him, I said, "Hi!" He returned my greeting with some uncertainty and much less exuberance. I don't think he remembered me.

That was the last time I saw him.

Robert D'Arista, or "Mista" D'Arista, as I liked to call him, was not the picture of physical health. He was overweight and his clothes, ill-fitting. He was a heavy smoker, which may have been the cause of his almost inaudible voice--quiet, but not weak. His black hair was oily and messy, as were his bushy mustache and eyebrows. One of his eyes seemed permanently squinted, as though he were always aiming.

To me, he looked just like an art professor should look. To me, he looked perfect.

As we drew, he would circle the room. When he saw something he liked, he would instruct the student to tear the picture out and put it in a pile. You could generally tell how well you were doing by how unruly your sketch pads were. This practice bothered the compulsive part of me which didn't like tearing things out. More often than not, he'd tell us to do it while we were still drawing. A typical exchange:

Prof. D'Arista demonstrates blind contour drawing using me as a subject (9/23/1986). D'Arista: "All right, that looks good. Put it in the pile."

Me: "But I'm not finished yet."

D'Arista: "What are you, a Communist? Stop drawing before you ruin it."

He was, of course, joking, but he didn't smile. I don't think I can remember him ever smiling. His expressions and gestures were slight, but like his voice, not without a certain power.

During the model's breaks, he would discuss the selected drawings one by one, aiming that eye, speaking slowly and softly. The class gathered around close and was silent in order to hear him. It was an effort, but most didn't mind. Professor D'Arista knew his stuff, and we knew he knew. His teaching was based more on encouragement than criticism. Generally when he held up a drawing, it was to point out what he saw as good in it.

After he had finished praising a piece, he'd simply drop it on the floor and go on to the next one. And so on, through the pile. Often, without noticing, he let his cigarette ashes fall on the drawings or stepped on them. It seemed outrageous to me given how most people regard art, but that's what I loved about it. I know he respected our work, but he did so without imposing on it the stifling seriousness that afflicts so much of the art world. He gave us pride and humility, through nothing more than his unconscious honesty.

These may be my own projections. I don't know. Whatever the case, I liked him. He helped me along my way as an artist. He gave, I took, and it was my privilege, not his. That's why I'm not bothered that he didn't remember me. And that's why, Mista D'Arista, I doubt I'll soon forget you.

(First printed in Boston University's Daily Free Press, October 15, 1987)
Born in New York City, Robert D'Arista spent the major part of his career in Washington DC where he was Chair of the Art Department of American University, having joined the faculty in 1961.

He studied at Columbia University, New York University, the Academie Grande Chaumiere in Paris, and in Florence, Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship. In the spring of 1973, he was Distinguished Visiting Artist at Boston University. He flew to Boston from D.C. each Wednesday for three-hour Senior Painting Seminar.

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Note from former student (anonymous)

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