This year has been a ‘Storm of Hope,” in many ways.  The phrase is anthemic and poignant in that it speaks to the eye of the storm that we have found ourselves in- one unprecedented rain after another.  Robert Longo looks to the unflinching photographic documentation of these moments and renders them by hand so that they become the most iconic and captivating versions.  The artist captures moments that are ingrained in our collective anxiety and reflective of our slow and gnawing tendency to engage in “doom scrolling.” A global pandemic, the threat to democracy, the fight for racial equality and civil rights, a desire to find permanence among displacement, an effort to rebuild after merciless natural disasters, right the wrongs of climate change, and reclaim our place as a community and as a people.  Robert Longo’s large-scale drawings ask that we pause for a moment longer than we would normally look at photographs to consider the weight of the subjects, find the evidence of his hand rendering shades of charcoal and look ahead to the hope that comes to light after the final cloud has passed. 

The phone rings and connects with Robert Longo in his New York City studio.  It is the first time in recent memory that a call to the East Coast truly feels like a long-distance transmission. 

The works presented in “Storm of Hope” reflects many of the principles that guide your artistic practice as they relate to the theme, scale, and medium.  Despite the expansive scale of Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery space in Los Angeles, the images tower over the viewer and effortlessly fill the vast interior.  What is the first impression that you hope to give the viewer when confronting your work? The hand referenced in “White Glove for Leon” is actually a clue. 

They do use that trick that you think that they’re photographs.  It always reminds me of how little people actually look and when they realize that they’re actually not photographs they look much more.  I think the fact that people really want to see labor, they want to see expressions and things like that.  Big dripping brushstrokes people get all excited about, you know? The fact is that messiness is in my work if you get really close to it.  That’s a part of it.

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue Removal; Memphis, 2017), Untitled (Blank Pather), More Monolith, Untitled (Refugees Moonbird Sighting, Mediterranean Sea; May 5, 2017), and Untitled (White Glove for Leon) (Left to Right)

 

How do you sift through the barrage of images in the media “storm” to determine the inspiration for a drawing?

There are certain images that I just want to make and I use the internet to find them.  I try to buy the rights as often as I can to buy the images and then what I’ve done, most of these images that I’ve used I’ve altered them.  I alter it in a way where I amplify certain aspects of it.  I combine other parts of it for instance the “Study of the Wall of Moms was made up of three different groups of women.  Or “The Capitol”– I altered them in a way, I want to make them the most iconic version of that image for sure.  For instance, the “Black Panther” is made out of three different panthers.  It’s not one panther.  People’s memories have become so geared by images that they remember things almost photographically and I think part of the thing is I’ve tried to use the fact that I trick people into thinking they’re photographs at first.  Then they realize that they’re charcoal drawings and they look a little bit longer.  The fact that these images are not simply a click but very labor-intensive constructed things.  What’s interesting is that about four feet away they kind of are hyper-real but once you cross that boundary and get close they fall apart and become just these abstract marks or gestures.  I think it’s a very big deal that this decision to make something- it’s not simply pushing a button you know it’s very labor-intensive. I mean art is my religion. It’s one of the few religions that I don’t think anybody has been killed in the name of. But yes it’s definitely my religion and I believe in these images and that’s the big part of it.

 

 

Robert Longo, Untitled (Black Panther), 2020
charcoal on mounted paper
107 3/34x 70 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Untitled (White Glove for Leon), 2019
charcoal on mounted paper
88 1/4 x 70 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

There is a sculptural quality to the work as it feels like the subject emerged by carving it out of the paper.

What’s ironic is that calling these things “charcoal drawings” is always somewhat humorous because if someone that I don’t know meets me and asks what I do and I say “charcoal drawings” they imagine these little tiny charcoal drawings.  They have no idea that they’re these things that are on a scale of like paintings and I think that are these weird hybrids that categorically fit into traditions of painting not the tradition of drawing.  I think the biggest difference between my stuff and painting is not so much that one is charcoal and one is painting it’s the way the process is- that traditional painting is you work from dark to light.  Let’s say you’re painting a tree.  You paint dark green first, light green.  The last thing would be the white highlights.  With my work, my work is the opposite.  I work from white to dark.  So the white in all the pictures is the white of the paper so I work from white to dark. The last thing that I usually do in these drawings is the black black which has these very heavy black marks. I have so many different values, I call them “colors of charcoal.”  I have cool black, warm black, regular black, black black.  They’re highly labor-intensive and they take a long time but one thing I also don’t have to deal with, I don’t have to deal with what painters have to deal with is drying time. I think painting is incredibly performance-based- it’s the original performance art.  It’s so time-based.  You have to make this plan with how to make the painting.  When you look at a great painting you can see the way that things are seamed together and different areas of color.  I mean the patience that’s required to make a painting is quite amazing.  I’m a pretty impatient person so I think that drawing actually worked out quite well for me because I don’t have to wait for something to dry.

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi; Istanbul, Turkey; October 2, 2018), Lost Monolith, Untitled (Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue Removal; Memphis, 2017,) Untitled (Blank Pather), Untitled (Refugees Moonbird Sighting, Mediterranean Sea; May 5, 2017,) Untitled (White Glove for Leon), and More Monolith, (Left to Right)

 

In creating “After Pollock- Convergence,” you not only get a true sense of the duration for the creation of the painting upon which the piece is based but further study the gestures that create the visual flow.

Except the irony is that my drawing took so much longer than the painting took. It’s really weird when I did this whole group of works for “Gang of Cosmos,” [an exhibition of drawings based on the paintings of Abstract Expressionists] I was really interested in the time frame of how long it took to draw a brushstroke or a drip.  It became almost like a forensic investigation.  I took hundreds of photographs of these paintings and I ended up working from the colored images because I thought black and white photography is very arbitrary.  It’s quite chemical so dark blue and dark red are almost the same color in black and white.  I deliberately tried to make these highly sensitized translations into black and white but the origin of these “Gang of Cosmos,” these Ab-Ex has to do with this idea of American art for sure, that’s really important to me.  The title Gang of Cosmos comes from [the preface of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman] where he says “America needs to separate itself from Europe and we need our own priests and artists and philosophers. We need a new gang of cosmos.” When I did those Ab-Ex guys it was really about this thing of trying to understand America.  I was born at the beginning when Abstract Expressionism happened [thriving in 1943 and the mid-50’s]  and Abstract Expressionism kind of died around the time when Kennedy was assassinated [1963] and I was about ten years old when it happened.  So it was really kind of like- political moments mark a lot of my life for sure.  I remember being in high school I was kind of a jock that slowly slipped into being a hippy.  I played football and I did play a little college football but the thing my senior year at Kent State [1970] happened and the kid that was on the ground where that woman was screaming over, it was a kid I went to high school with.  It kind of really affected me.  That imagery affected me really deeply.  I think in my own development I can remember iconic images that really stick in my head but that image, that moment was really pretty important to me so I think from that point on, from the very beginning my work had somewhat of a political edge to it, different levels of amplification.  I’ve said this before, I came of age during Regan who I despised, he was the guy that said “let’s make America great again” originally and he was always talking about returning America to its traditional values. What are America’s traditional values? Slavery?

 

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (After Pollock – Convergence, 1952), and More Monolith (Left to Right)

 

The salon wall located toward the back of the gallery presents a series of smaller images, studies that echo themes of displacement, unrest and put a face to the storms that we have experienced over the past year.

When things started to explode politically during the pandemic, I had been making a lot of these images for quite a while.  The taking down of the Nathan Bedford Forest is quite an older drawing that I kept for a while.  I thought that taking down Confederate monuments was one of the great moments in American history and I started doing those maybe in 2014 but what’s happened, with all these incredible images starting showing up with the protestors recently… now the world is actually really looking at things and people are actually paying more attention to things and visually they’re looking at a cop putting a knee on a black man’s neck and killing him and they’re watching it over and over again. That group of studies back there is kind of like the way my brain is, ya know? I realized what’s happened is that I can’t make these- the images now want to be more about nature and protest.  I thought the image of the “Wall of Moms” to me was one of the most beautiful images I had seen- these women protecting the protestors was really great.  I also think that the thing with the Robert E. Lee statue being graffitied was one of the best pieces of art I had seen in such a long time.  What fucking country has statues of traitors? They’re like Soviet-style oppressive statues and that graffiti was quite amazing.

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Broken Heart, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
21 x 31 1/2 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Jewish Cemetery Strasbourg, France, 2019
ink and charcoal on vellum
21 x 31 1/2 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of There is No Threat, 2018
ink and charcoal on vellum
15 1/2 x 16 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of American Cotton Field, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
21 x 31 3/8 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Riot Cops, Charlotte, NC, 2017
ink and charcoal on vellum
15 3/4 x 32 15/16 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

Robert Longo, Study of Wall of Moms- Portland, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
21 x 31 1/4 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Statue Robert E. Lee, Richmond- 8/20, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
29 3/4 x 21 1/2 inches (image )
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of ICU/ Pandemic- 03/20, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
21 x 31 3/8 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Footballer, 2018
ink and charcoal on vellum,
20 7/8 x 21 7/16 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Hydrangea, 2020
ink and charcoal on vellum
26 7/6 x 20 15/16 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of California Wildfire, 2019
ink and charcoal on canvas
16 7/16 x 32 7/8 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Study of Mediterranean Refugees, 2019
ink and charcoal on vellum
20 15/16 x 26 inches (image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (Iceberg for Greta Thunberg), Untitled (The Supreme Court of the United States (Split)), Untitled (After Pollock – Convergence, 1952), and More Monolith (Left to Right)

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (California Wildfire), and Untitled (Iceberg for Greta Thunberg) (Left to Right)

 

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (The Supreme Court of the United States (Split)), and Untitled (After Pollock – Convergence, 1952) (Left to Right)

 

 

You have described your large-scale charcoal drawings as “intimate immensities,” and I love that idea that something that a drawing can feel large when experienced in the gallery but is in fact scaled-down when comparing it to the actual source.  Our relationship with The Capitol, The White House, and The Supreme Court has changed over the duration of the exhibition.  We once revered these architectural monuments as pillars of strength of democracy but we are now seeing that those very freedoms can be threatened.

I think that the whole idea comes from that idea of trying to find this balance from something that’s highly personal and also socially relevant.  Those three [“The White House,” “Capital,” and” Supreme Court”] and pieces are over the course I guess maybe five or six years.  “The White House” was really a complete frustration of dealing with Trump and all of them were direct responses.  You know I’ve always said I think making art is a political act.

Storm of Hope” strikes a haunting note because the drawings reveal that history is as fragile as charcoal.

The idea that I’m trying to slow down images… the constant image storm that we live in.  I was trying to pick images out of that to slow things down, so you look a little bit more.  I did this drawing of a Jewish cemetery that someone had defaced with Swastikas, it’s a very large drawing.  I have a subscription to the New York Times and I save it so if I don’t read it every day and I have this big pile of New York Times that I go through.  There was this psychologist that lived up my block and I would always see him walking down the street to go to the subway and he always had a bunch of old newspapers stuck in his thing and I remember one time walking next to him and this little kid was saying “what are you going to do with those newspapers?” he says, “I’m going to read them!” and I’ve become that guy.  I was thumbing through a newspaper that was maybe a couple of weeks old and I came across maybe page ten of the New York Times this image of the graveyard with the swastikas on it and I completely flipped out.  And I read the caption where it said it was in France, it was in Strasbourg, and it was just so unsettling that this shit is still happening and it kind of creeped me out. And I bought the rights to the photograph and then I sent a photographer back there again to take better pictures of the tombstones so I could translate them and learn who those people were. It was interesting that all those people died right before Holocaust ended, around 1931.

 

 

 

Robert Longo, Untitled (The Supreme Court of the United States (Split)), 2018
charcoal on mounted paper
121 1/8 x 71 3/16 inches (left panel framed)
121 1/8 x 71 3/16 inches (right panel framed)
121 1/8 x 146 3/8 inches (overall framed)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (Capitol)

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020-2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (White House) 

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (White House), and Untitled (Capitol) ( Left to Right)

 

 

Installation view, Robert Longo: Storm of Hope, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, 2020- 2021
Photo by Joshua White.  Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch
Untitled (Black Panther), Untitled (Refugees Moonbird Sighting, Mediterranean Sea; May 5, 2017,) Untitled (White Glove for Leon), and Untitled (White House) (Left to Right)

 

 

Robert Longo, Untitled (Capitol), 2012-2013
charcoal on mounted paper (7 panels)
121 1/8 493 3/8 inches (overall framed)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Untitled (White House), 2019
charcoal on mounted paper
96 x 280 inches (overall image)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Along the lines of “slowing things down,” the two monoliths placed at either end of the gallery inspired me not only to get close to them but actively walk around them in either direction to create sentences from the text at varying heights.  In confronting the monoliths I was immediately transported to the first and final scene of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” During my visit to the gallery,  I was unaware that the scale of the monoliths was actually modeled after Kubrick’s iconic sculpture.  The monolith signals the dawn of a new era, a moment of monumental change, and the continuation of man’s odyssey.  Their first appearance in the film is during a prehistoric moment when our ancestors identified the use of bones as a tool and weapon.  The monolith appears at the end of the film in the year 2001 as a Star Child shines with the luminosity of Jupiter and is propelled toward Earth.  I particularly loved the texture of the sculptures as they were impregnated with the text with a texture like a letterpress.  The dichotomy between “loss” and “more” made me consider that perhaps we have weathered the worst of the storm and perhaps we are on the precipice of hope.  The monoliths echo the duality of the exhibition- presence, and absence, loss and abundance, place and displacement. 

That’s really great with you saying- that makes me very happy that you saw what was happening in those monoliths, it’s great.  It is more about your movement in the round and they are connected to the drawing.  The thing that’s really weird is the idea of trying to figure out how to make sculptures because I was trained, actually, my degree was in sculpture and the drawings in a weird way are very sculptural because they’re like carving out the image… it’s like erasing is a really big part of it.   I’m constantly tortured trying to find the physical manifestation of my work and it’s always been really difficult.  And it comes out in things that don’t necessarily look like my work but I always thought it’s not important that it looks like your work but feels like your work.

 

 

 

Robert Longo, More Monolith, 2018
Urethane resin, Epoxy resin, steel
132 x 54 x 8 inches
Edition 1 of 3, 1AP
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

 

Robert Longo, Lost Monolith, 2018
Urethane resin, Epoxy resin, steel
132 x 54 x 8 inches
Edition 1 of 3, 1AP
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

 

The notes I captured during my interaction with the monoliths were-“more sleep drugs, followers, shootings, commercials, data, trust, competition, threats, and space.” With the loss monolith, I found” keys, originality, memory, values, jobs, imagination, faith, passion, passwords, mail, savings, and wisdom.

Perfect! I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to go to work. I’m excited about what I’m doing and things like that but that morning I could not find my fucking keys and I couldn’t find my phone and then someone, a friend of mine had just died and then I realized I was really hungry and I wanted more of the food and I realized I shouldn’t be eating it and then the whole thing- I wanted one work to be bigger but I couldn’t make it bigger.  I wanted the work to be more and I started realizing that this “loss” and this “more” stuff are these boundaries of life you know? I want more of this and I lost that and it became these kinds of goalposts of my life in a weird way.

About an hour after the interview, there was an incoming call from an unknown number on the second ring. “Longo here,” the artist began.  No preamble.  Just straight to the point.  After reviewing preliminary notes he had discovered that the original title for “Storm of Hope” had been “Sea of Troubles,” a Shakespearian allusion to Prince Hamlet’s soliloquy. 

To be, or not to be? That is the question—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—

No more—and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

 

 

 

 

Featured Image:

Robert Longo, Untitled (The Supreme Court of the United States (Split)), 2018
charcoal on mounted paper
121 1/8 x 71 3/16 inches (left panel framed)
121 1/8 x 71 3/16 inches (right panel framed)
121 1/8 x 146 3/8 inches (overall framed)
Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles