Robert Longo: Charcoal
By: Ryan Bloom
Robert Longo is a contemporary artist who is most well-known for his large scale charcoal drawings. Last year, in professor Clippinger’s Figure Drawing class, I was deciding between doing a report on Robert Longo and Kara Walker, and I ended up studying Kara Walker. Therefore, I was excited about the opportunity to now learn more about Robert Longo as well.
The first thing that I notice when looking at Longo’s work is the drastic contrast that he manages to create between his lights and darks. In my work, I often notice a very neutral color scheme with a lot of grey values. However, I really want to start to work to introduce more extreme contrasts, and therefore will hopefully be able learn from Longo’s techniques in order to achieve this. Longo starts by covering his white canvas with a thick layer of dark charcoal, and then adding the highlights in using erasers afterwards. I find this method very interesting because it is the complete opposite of how everyone initially learns to/starts to draw, by adding shading and color to a white page. Although I don’t believe that I will fully implement this technique simply due to the fact that my works are usually less focused on one figure and more focused on the composition overall, I believe that I will be able to implement this technique in certain parts of my works, and I plan to do so.
One art critic, Thomas Kellein, was describing Longo’s exhibits and stated that, “Standing in one of his [Longo’s] exhibitions, one feels a kind of magnetic pull emanating from the deep blackness of his pictures [1, p. 77].” This explains the sheer intensity that Longo is able to create through his use of contrast in his images. In addition to the intense contrast in Longo’s works, the subjects on which he focuses are also extremely riveting. Longo states that, “The drawings of rose, waves, and bombs exist at the moment of their becoming. A rose blooms, a wave crashes, and a bomb explodes – they are what they were meant to be [1, p.23].” These are all moments of intense action and climaxes of whatever Longo’s subjects are meant to be. These action are enhanced by the extreme contrast in his works, and are amplified even further due to the scale of his works, which often reach up to 30 ft. long. Longo’s minimal use of white and lights and overwhelming use of darks helps to create a mysterious feel to his works as well.
In my opinion, Robert Longo creates some of the most interesting and moving works of art that I have seen. His combination of subject choice and extreme contrast help to draw the viewer into the work as well as anyone else. I hope to learn from his works and to implement some of his techniques myself by introducing more contrast and focusing on more intense subjects throughout my artwork in the future.
 Foster, Hal, et al. Robert Longo: Charcoal. Hatje Cantz, 2017.
 Longo, Robert, and Alexander Ferrando. Gang of Cosmos: the Abstract Expressionist Drawings. Hatje Cantz, 2017.