Robert Longo

Looking for a little inspiration for your charcoal practice? Our new series, Charcoal Inspiration, offers up artists and works that have taken the art of charcoal drawing to new heights, pushed it towards new horizons, and inspired us. “When you have an idea you have to beat the idea up. Whichever idea survives, which is the strongest, is what you make.”

- Robert Longo

Sculptor, director, musician, performer, photographer and all-round visionary artist Robert Longo’s career spans four decades and boasts one of the most impacting and eclectic outputs of any artist working today. And through it all - from his early performance pieces and sculpture to fashion photography and his work directing music videos and a feature film – Longo has professed to hold one true love and medium closest to his heart: working in black and white, charcoal and graphite.
“I grew up learning the world in picture magazines in the late 60s and early 70s,” the artist told director Matt Black in his video series Reflections. “On the cover would be a picture of Marily Monroe or a president – in color. But then you’d turn the page and it would be an expose´on the Vietnam war and it’s always in black and white. Or the horrors of Calcutta – always in black and white. And I started thinking, maybe I work in black and white because it’s the truth.”


“Untitled (Shark 4)” by Robert Longo
A collected view of Longo’s truths spanning the last two decades can be found in his latest book, Charcoal, published in 2012. It’s a hefty tome surveying what has become a career long fascination with power, its sources, and its effects and features his typically large scale images of his signature bombastic “climactic moments” of monster waves and atomic clouds, as well as the quiet meditative work he is less known for like the Freud Drawings and his Magellan sequence of the 1990s.


But don’t leave any survey of Longo’s charcoal work to just the book – the real meat of the matter, the acorn of this artist’s oak, is to be found in some of his earliest work, the Men in the Cities series of the late 1970s and early 80s.

The series, which has been called “era defining” and “the definitive work of the 1980s,” captures men and women dressed in business attire, alone, and in the throes of impact. What it is, exactly - a gunshot, an explosion, or even a blast of music - that has sent these figures into their contortions and alienation is for the viewer to discern. What is certain is that these images have withstood the test of time and still resonate today.

“Somehow he manages to be provocative through the most formal qualities of his pictures,” said Tomas Maier, creative director of Bottega Veneta, in a video about the fashion house’s collaboration with Longo in 2010 to reinterpret the Men in the Cities series for their fall campaign. “The line, the shades of black and grey – nothing is obvious, yet it’s always powerful.”

Watch the Robert Longo video for Reflections here:

 Robert Longo: Man in the City


Read more about Charcoal here:
View Longo’s full Men in the Cities series as well as a portfolio of his work at the his website
Watch The Art of Collaboration about Longo’s shoot for Bottega Veneta here:


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