While Robert Longo has worked in a variety of media – including performance, photography, sculpture and painting – he is best known for his large-scale charcoal drawings engaging with art histrory as well as hyper-realistic works that reflect on the construction of symbols of power and authority. 

Inspired by Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, he explores the effects of living in an image-saturated culture – how we filter, retain and process the images that bombard us daily. The narrative strength and emotive impact of his works come from the transformation of the intimate practice of drawing into the monumental scale of painting, as well as the meticulous detail he achieves in charcoal.

Longo’s works are often drawn from media sources that reflect current affairs and socio-political issues, including war, protest movements, immigration and climate change. In parallel to this, he has created several series that depict ‘absolutes’ at their moment of fulfilment, such as bombs exploding, waves crashing, sharks breaching or roses blooming.

He also engages with art history in works he collectively calls Forensic Distance, reinterpreting paintings by the Abstract Expressionists, Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh, among others. Since 2015, he has embarked on a series of drawings based on conservation X-rays of masterpieces such as Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), seeking the ‘truth’ of an image beyond its surface appearance.

‘I elevate drawing from its “secondary” status, by making it the scale of large paintings. This imposing scale, combined with the medium’s inherent intimacy, represents a sincere attempt to slow down the image, to provoke the viewer to consume its full power.’ – Robert Longo

In his 2017 monumental drawing of an X-ray of Édourd Manet’s last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), Longo recovers traces of Manet’s working process. Particularly compelling are the adjustments Manet made to the barmaid’s pose in earlier stages of the composition, before he settled on her assertive stance with her hands placed firmly on the bar.

Multiple versions of the work are made visible in Longo’s intricately-detailed depiction, standing at 2.5 metres tall and over 3 metres wide, showing the viewer what usually remains unseen under the layers of paint to reveal alternative histories.


ALBERTINA, Vienna (Austria)
from September 2024

from 25 October 2024