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Artist in Focus : Robert Longo

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Robert Longo.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Stark images of men and women are sharply cut in paper, images that are everyday but extraordinarily represented, through the impeccable craft of Robert Longo. One look at the art work and one knows that they are looking at something that will change the way they view black and white images. That is the talent of Robert Longo.

Born and raised in Brooklyn New York, in 1953, Longo absorbed the post war culture that had swept America. He witnessed a period of prosperity around him while subliminally there was a political unease about the possibility of war. That was the climate of Cold War, and the generation that lived through it will remember distinctly how a stalemate condition could lend its uncertainty.

Longo was artistically inclined from a young age and he went on to study at University of North Texas, Denton. He dropped out before getting a degree, his artistic urge unassuaged. Studying sculpture under Leonda Finke, he found his language and was able to nurture and hone his love for sculpture. Encouraged to pursue a career in the visual arts by Finke, Longo made his decision and never looked back.

While in college, Longo and his friends established an Avant Garde art gallery in their co-op building, the Essex Art Centre, which was originally a converted ice factory; the gallery became Hallwalls Contemporary Art Centre. Through his gallery efforts, Longo met many local and New York City artists. Longo eventually moved to New York City to join the underground art scene of the 1970s.

My degree was in sculpture. I always think that drawing is a sculptural process. I always feel like I’m carving the image out rather than painting the image. I’m carving it out with erasers and tools like that. I’ve always had this fondness for sculpture.

– Robert Longo

Robert Longo and the Pictures Generation

Longo always maintained that sculpture was his big love and it is how he interpreted his training into his craft and fused it with current themes that makes his work truly remarkable. In his early work, the relief The American Soldier (1977), it was established that he was fascinated with interpreting power, also the translation of images from one medium to another (in this case the soldier was ‘appropriated’ from the Rainer Werner Fassbinder film of the same name).

Longo recognised the he was surrounded by a culture that was hungry for rapid success and growth. There was a huge influx from visual media, and the entire generation was propelled towards gather more and fast. “I’ve been dealing with epic images, and I realized all of a sudden that I grew up in the age of epics”, he said.

Longo used photographs to capture, arrest and reproduce, represent in his own way. His Men in the Cities, was a legendary homage to the times. It was a perfect montage that told a story with compelling visuals. Over time his drawings grew in size and he included various media, to augment his thematic concerns.


Robert Longo created an entirely different set of visual dialogue that expresses the artistic angst surrounded by a consumerist society. His initial works Men in the Cities, Black Flags ( signifying his preoccupation with power and authority), Magellan, Freud drawings and Barbara and Ralph were deeply respected and renowned.

Longo has participated at the Whitney Biennial, and has had several retrospective exhibitions which include – the Hamburger Kunstverein and Deichtorhallen, Menil Collection in Houston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1989, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1990, Hartford Athenaeum. The Isetan Museum of Art in Tokyo, and a “Survey Exhibition 1980-2009,” at Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain in Nice France in 2009 and at Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal in 2010.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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