The Art of Robert Longo: Black Flag

Robert Longo, Black Flag

The career of artist Robert Longo (American, b.1953) is defined by a substantial and diverse body of work that is less about a particular genre or medium than it is about a sensibility: a clear and unrelenting artistic gaze in which visual hedonism and political disillusionment are in constant tension.

detail of Black Flag

Sometimes called a Pop artist, Longo stands apart from the typical Pop Art aesthetic because of his obsessive focus on manual processes and his refusal to use direct appropriation in his works. Although based on photographs, his intricate and densely layered charcoal drawings depend on an enormous amount of labor by hand, and this labor is important to Longo as an artist. He has said, “Drawing from photos is a way of reclaiming the images that haunt us. By drawing them, I make them become not just something I am looking at but something that becomes part of me.”  The drawing process is Longo’s way of fully internalizing the images of mass culture and then transmuting them into his own highly idiosyncratic artistic vision to create images that are dark, cinematic, and visceral.

detail of Black Flag

Longo is fascinated by the iconography of power and of violence, and it is certainly true that his more politicized works speak directly to the major anxieties that grip the popular imagination. His most overt engagement with America’s legacy is the Black Flags series of distressed and blackened American flags of which the large and impressive cast paper print shown here is most iconic.

See more works by Longo

Excerpt from “The Art of Robert Longo” by Presca Ahn, April 14, 2013