Robert Longo's Untitled (Black Tube) is a vast charcoal drawing executed in 2002, depicting a crashing wave, frozen in motion in the black-and white of this painstakingly-rendered image. In the first couple of years of the new millennium, Longo created a series of large-scale pictures of waves, many of them based on his own photographs, others culled from surf magazines, with later examples created as hybrids, taking elements from each. In this way, he appropriated photography both through his use of that source material and also through the deliberately photorealist appearance of this huge meticulously hand-drawn image.
Untitled (Black Tube) presents the viewer with an overwhelming sense of the force of nature. There is an elemental power at work: the entire composition is filled with the crashing of this tidal colossus of a wave, which fills the picture with a sense of danger, prefiguring his pictures of mushroom clouds from nuclear explosions. At the same time, as the surfer provenance of some of the source images implies, one man's tsunami is another's perfect wave, as is hinted at by the 'tube' reference in the title. This, then, is a searing contemporary image of the sublime, filled with the awe, joy and danger that that term implies. And, in our technological era, the viewer cannot help but feel amazed by the scale of this meticulously created image when looking at the traces with which Longo has so carefully used his charcoal medium with such incredible versatility and attention to detail.