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Artist Examines American Media Through Photorealist Charcoal Drawings

Robert Longo has been drawing photographic images of America for nearly five decades.
Untitled (St. Louis Rams, Hands Up), 2016, charcoal on mounted paper, 100 x 146 in (image). From the series The Destroyer Cycle. All images courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

A rolling wave crests across three separate panels of a monochromatic triptych, carrying a boatful of refugees as they careen over water. The image is taken from a piece of Doctors Without Borders publicity material and repurposed within a gallery space to make a point about image consumption, and how to represent a collective American feeling. A recent show from New York-based artist, Robert Longo presents a calvary of images taken from different realms of the American media.


From these photographic sources, the artist renders each historic visual into highly realistic hand-drawn illustration. His latest solo exhibition at Metro Pictures in NYC is titled The Destroyer Cycle, and functions as a reflection of the "hidden truths" which go relatively unseen within the limitless-possibilities state of the American media diet. Longo uses 12 large-scale, charcoal-produced works to reconsider the state of the world.

Untitled (Raft at Sea), 2016–2017 triptych. Charcoal on mounted paper 140 x 281 in (overall image)

Included in The Destroyer Cycle are several x-ray works, which take elements of a celebrated painting, rejiggering the aesthetic by illustrating an underpainting, x-ray version of the original in Longo's signature charcoal medium. In Venus with a Mirror (1555, After Titian), the artist takes the famous National Gallery-residing piece and applies the x-ray technique to create a complex, contemporary interpretation.

Untitled (Destroyed Head of Lamassu, Nineveh), 2016. Charcoal on mounted paper 88 1/2 x 140 in (image)

Speaking to Creators about The Destroyer Cycle Longo explains, "I hope to slow down images through the medium of drawing, to urge the viewer to consume the full power of each image. I am presenting images we see in media, images the viewer could easily swipe through on a phone. Rather, I am asking for the viewer to spend time, to really look. Drawing is an extraordinarily physical way of analyzing something, digested through my body on a molecular level. I approach the process as if I'm making a sculpture: I carve the image out of layers of charcoal dust, a truly archaic medium."


"This exhibition," Longo elaborates, "is more figurative than previous shows of mine, evoking archteypes from the Burgers of Calais to Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, their fists in the air. There are several groups of people: some by choice, some incarcerated, some fleeing, some in power, some questioning power."

Untitled (After Titian, Venus With a Mirror, 1555), 2017. Graphite and charcoal on paper, 7 1/2 x 6 1/4 in (image)

Untitled (X-Ray of Venus with a Mirror, 1555, After Titian), 2016–2017. Charcoal on mounted paper, 110 x 92 1/4 in (image)

Study of Lights Out, 2017. Ink and charcoal on vellum, 23 15/16 x 36 in (image)

Untitled (Teletubbies), 2016. Charcoal on mounted paper 73 1/2 x 140 in (image)

Untitled (First Amendment, September 25, 1789), 2017. Charcoal on mounted paper 70 x 120 in

Robert Longo, "The Destroyer Cycle." Installation view, 2017. Metro Pictures, New York. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Robert Longo, "The Destroyer Cycle." Installation view, 2017. Metro Pictures, New York. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Robert Longo's solo show, The Destroyer Cycle, is on-view at Metro Pictures gallery in New York through June 17th. Find more information, here.


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