Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Robert Longo witnessed at full force the post-war influence of mass media on society; his fascination with popular culture blossomed during his childhood, and, eventually, became a core element of his art. His practice was immediately noticed, and, after obtaining a grant in 1972 to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, he returned to the United States and received a BFA at the Buffalo State University College in 1975.
He moved back to New York City later in the same decade, joining the underground artistic scene and was subsequently linked to the artistic group Picture Generation – which appropriated images from mass media to create their own art. Despite his growth to adulthood while Pop Art was dominating the artistic scene, Robert Longo developed a completely different practice: his heavily contrasted, black and white, photo realistic drawings go against the Pop Art rhetoric of the glorification of the consumerist goods, as he rather seems to condemn the overpowering effect of capitalist society on its subjects.
His technique involves the use of charcoal and graphite as malleable materials, as he works them into thick, porous paper to create visually impactful drawings. The richness of the black is also given by the use of ink and by the astounding contrast against sharp whites that he often carves out with an eraser – as he once said, “I always think that drawing is a sculptural process […] I always feel like I’m carving the image out rather than painting the image”.
Longo’s œvre is evidence of his consistent examination of the notions of power and authority in society – the series Men In The City (1980s) features life-sized drawings of men and women sharply dressed, contorted in uncanny poses as they are moved by an overwhelming, inner force. Longo, also, has often widened his perspective to explore beyond the hierarchies of society to focus on the forces of nature, as in the series Monsters, Kings, and Perfect Gods – developed between 2000 and 2016.
Robert Longo has been consistently producing art for over thirty years and was awarded with the Goslarer Kaiserring in 2005. He exhibited at institutions such as The Brooklyn Museum – Brooklyn (2017), Albertina Museum – Vienna, Berardo Museum – Lisbon, Whitney Museum – Manhattan, Reina Sofia – Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York and at the Venice Biennale.