“I think I make art for brave eyes. I don’t want to make art that will pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be okay. I want to make something that’s much more confronting. You don’t look at it, it looks at you as much as you look at it” (R. Longo, quoted in R. Longo, R. Price (eds.), Robert Longo: Men in the Cities, New York 1986, p. 94).
For all their seriousness, Longo’s works are also enduringly spirited and captivating in their technical achievements. While working in the traditional medium of charcoal, Longo’s photo-realist drawings, much like Gerhard Richter’s famous photo-paintings, are indeed based on images borrowed from the world of media and demonstrating the artist’s interest in the conceptual kinship between photography and drawing. In the present work, the artist demonstrates his keen aptitude in capturing the negative space of his subject; he masterfully renders the image of a rose through weaving ribbons of rich black charcoal into shining gradients that rest atop his red-colored paper support.
Longo, who rose to prominence in the 1980s with his seminal Men in the City series, explains his embrace of the underprivileged medium of drawing as driven by the desire to try “something that wasn’t mainstream…There was painting and sculpture and then there was drawing…They always seemed to be these intimate things, so the idea of elevating drawing to painting scale seemed to be radical…I wanted the works to operate on a really grand scale. It was important to compete with what was going on in the world, in the media and the art world” (R. Longo, quoted in ‘Working Towards Affection: An Interview with Robert Longo’, Border Crossings, no. 115, September 2010, pp. 40-41).
Much like the work of Old Master artists, Longo harnesses chiaroscuro with an extraordinary emotional effect. Much of the epic narrative strength exhibited in this lot comes from Longo's seemingly incomparable elevation of the practice of drawing from the intimate to the monumental. Longo often uses his own photographs as source imagery. Thus Longo's practice can be seen in relation to appropriated photography, not only because of his source material but also through his deliberate and meticulous photorealist aesthetic. The artist is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, the Menil Collection, Houston, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.