Exclusive interview with famed powerful American artist Robert Longo. Longo talks about life, politics, Moby Dick and his show at Petzel Gallery.
Robert Longo (b. 1953) is an American painter and sculptor. Longo became a rising star in the 1980s for his "Men in the Cities" series, which depicted sharply dressed men and women writhing in contorted emotion.
Robert Longo was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Long Island. He had a childhood fascination with mass media: movies, television, magazines, and comic books, which continue to influence his art.
Longo began college at the University of North Texas, in the town of Denton, but left before getting a degree. He later studied sculpture under Leonda Finke, who encouraged him to pursue a career in the visual arts. In 1972, Longo received a grant to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy. Upon his return to New York, Longo enrolled at Buffalo State College, where he received a BFA in 1975. While at Buffalo State, he studied under, and was likely influenced by art professor Joseph Piccillo. At this time he was associated with artist Cindy Sherman, who was also studying art at Buffalo State.
While in college, Longo and his friends established an avant garde art gallery in their co-op building, the Essex Art Center, which was originally a converted ice factory; the gallery became Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. 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.
Although he studied sculpture, drawing remained Longo's favorite form of self-expression.
However, the sculptural influence pervades his drawing technique, as Longo's "portraits" have a distinctive chiseled line that seems to give the drawings a three-dimensional quality. Longo uses graphite like clay, molding it to create images like the writhing, dancing figures in his seminal "Men in the Cities" series.
Working on themes of power and authority, Longo produced a series of blackened American flags ("Black Flags" 1989–91) as well as oversized hand guns ("Bodyhammers" 1993–95). From 1995 to 1996 he worked on his "Magellan" project, 366 drawings (one per day) that formed an archive of the artist's life and surrounding cultural images. "Magellan" was followed by 2002's "Freud Drawings", which reinterpreted Edmund Engelman's famous documentary images of Sigmund Freud's flat, moments before his flight from the Nazis.
In 2002 and 2004 he presented "Monsters", Bernini-esque renderings of massive breaking waves and "The Sickness of Reason", baroque renderings of atomic bomb blasts. "Monsters" was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
In the 1980s, Longo directed several music videos, including New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle", Megadeth's "Peace Sells" and "The One I Love" by R.E.M. He is responsible for the front covers of Glenn Branca's The Ascension from 1981 and The Replacements' 1985 album Tim, while his work has inspired others such as Circlesquare's music video "Dancers".
In 1992, Longo directed an episode of Tales from the Crypt entitled "This'll Kill Ya." He also directed the cyberpunk movie Johnny Mnemonic, starring Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren and Takeshi Kitano, and a short film named Arena Brains. At the time, Longo was quoted as saying, "making a painting is one thing, but making a film kicks your ass." During the late 1980s and early 1990s Longo developed a number of performance art theatre pieces, such as "Marble Fog" and "Killing Angels", collaborating with Stuart Argabright, the guitarist Chuck Hammer and Douglas Sloan.
He was the leader and guitarist of a musical act called Robert Longo's Menthol Wars, which performed punk experimental music in New York rock clubs in the late 1970s. During the same period, he also performed with Rhys Chatham in Chatham's Guitar Trio, producing a series of slowly fading slides entitled Pictures for Music, which was played behind the musicians.
For more than 30 years Longo has been a prominent figure in New York’s cultural scene. His artworks, performance pieces, music performances, films and videos invent, cull, and recycle iconographic images from an expansive cultural visual cache to comment on ideas surrounding image potency, production and circulation. He was among the five artists included in the seminal 1977 Artists Space exhibition “Pictures” and is a key figure of the subsequently named Pictures Generation.
Longo has had one-person exhibitions at the Musée d‘art moderne et d‘art contemporain, Nice; Krefelder Kunstmuseum, Krefeld, Germany; the Albertina, Vienna; Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Menil Collection in Houston. Robert Longo has participated in Documenta, the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale.
Robert Longo is represented by Metro Pictures in NYC, Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.
Robert Longo | filmed by Out of Sync | NYC April 2014
Interview | Jesper Bundgaard
Camera and edit | Per Henriksen
Producer | Out of Sync
Artworks courtesy | Robert Longo
© Out of Sync 2016