The New York Artist Looks Back at Three Decades of Icon-Making

“I was one of those guys that got blamed for the 80s,” muses Robert Longo from his NY studio in the latest instalment of director Matt Black’s Reflections series. After the 1977 Pictures show at Artists Space in Manhattan made his Hollywood cinema-inspired enamelled aluminium reliefs famous, Longo went on to become one of the most collected, exhibited and talked about artists of the early 1980s, most widely known for the suit-and-tie wearing charcoal-drawn silhouettes dancing in his “Men in the Cities” series. “He’s somebody who created a strong image very early in his career,” notes NOWNESS regular Black of the works that have come to permeate image-making. “He told me that once, he was at the Met, and a little girl pointed at one of his works and said, ‘Oh, that’s an Apple commercial.’ At that point, Longo realized he didn’t own the image anymore—it was a part of visual culture.” The husband of German actress Barbara Zukowa has moonlighted as a filmmaker, making music videos for New Order and R.E.M., and the cyberpunk feature Johnny Mnemonic, starring Keanu Reeves. But despite the vast body of multimedia output that has canonized him alongside late 20th-century greats like Cindy Sherman, his preferred medium is still charcoal. Producing large-format, hyperreal black-and-white drawings, Longo seems to reproduce the visions of horror and beauty ingrained in our collective psyche, from atom bomb explosions and shark attacks to the unfolding petals of a rose. “It’s exciting that he came back to the scene with this totally new body of work in the 2000s,” says Black. “He captures our time by capturing its images.”

By Nowness

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