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Joanna and Larry by Robert Longo

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Joanna and Larry by Robert Longo.

About the Work

Title: Joanna And Larry
Series : ‘Men in the Cities’
Artist : Robert Longo
Year : 1983
Medium : lithograph on wove paper
Dimensions : 72 x 36 in
Location : private collection

Joanna and Larry, 1983 by Robert Longo
image courtesy : Sothebys

Joanna & Larry

Longo’s work creates a veritable visual story. There is a palpable tension between the duo. The drawings have been executed on separate sheets of paper, but the subjects or protagonists are joined together by virtue of an invisible link. There is a sense that they have both charged towards a goal, their get up is a witness to the corporate culture that they exists in and minutes before they reach their goal – there is an explosion.

The detailing of the clothes and the groomed appearances are a part of the larger picture and the black clothes, the shift dresses and tucked in shirt – they all point to a relentless system and their pursuit of the unimaginable target.

Longo’s entire series ‘Men in the Cities’ (1979-81) was adept at depicting the grip of some invisible power that held the besuited figures in its thrall. This was the series that cemented Longo’s place in the American artistic space.

“I saw James Chance and the Contortions, and I said: ‘These are psychotic impulses.’ And when I was a kid – making art is the way you find something socially relevant that is also highly personal.”

Robert Longo

Other Details

Trained in sculpture, for Longo it was drawing he favoured as his primary medium, with some exceptions of his massive works of the early 80s. His focus has been on charcoal, a difficult medium that he has mastered and he creates great works that demonstrate immense technical virtuosity.

Interestingly, while the images denote a power struggle that the subjects face – and that they are faced with circumstances far beyond their reach, Longo shared his inspiration behind the works.

Drawing on a childhood game, which was popular in the 50s called “Who Could Fall Dead the Best”. The objective was that the shooter would aim and release the lethal shot and the protagonist would have to dramatically fold over and pretend to die in slow motion. Whoever aced the move, got to be with the guy with the gun. Simple.

There is a poignancy in the denotion and the history, which is based on something so innocent, echoing of a time too that was so simple and yet profoundly impactful. Longo repeatedly says, whenever asked that the images that remains in the head are the ones that are responsible for eventually finding their way out as art.

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

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