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  • Provenance

    Issue Project Room Benefit Auction
    Phillips de Pury & Company, 18 September 2008

  • Catalogue Essay

    “... I’d just taught my kid how to surf, I’d always surfed since I was a little kid, and here I was in nature with this ultimate power of the wave and I said...I’d try to draw this wave.” ROBERT LONGO AND MATT BLACK, NOWNESS, 2013

    The overwhelming piece, Spanish Blood, is homage to the powerful force and significant beauty of nature. Quickly rising to fame in 1980s New York, Robert Longo has always felt a responsibility as an artist to leave a record of the time period in which he lives. As a result of this aim, he creates large scale representations of images that pervade us on a daily basis – from atom bombs to shark attacks or, in the case of this lot, colossal waves. Longo takes visual iconography we are so accustomed to and prompts the viewers’ recognition and re-evaluation, portraying the beauty, drama and power of the world around us.

    The enormous, painstakingly drawn Spanish Blood is archetypal of Longo’s work. The hyperrealist style and intense attention to detail give his work a photographic quality, testimony to the precision with which he draws from photographs. The present lot is a fine example of the great command he has over his preferred medium of charcoal which, to him, represents a regeneration of a way of seeing things. The subject matter itself shows a tremendous wave at its crescendo, moments before crashing down. It is a theme the artist is very keen on, dedicating an entire series to the theme of waves with 'Monsters' in 2000. Longo fills the piece with movement; the waves appear to be bubbling with energetic tension as they rise almost out of the page. He consciously uses a monochrome palette throughout his oeuvre, as he recalls seeing black and white photographs of Vietnam and other historical moments in magazines, musing, “...subconsciously I think of black and white as the truth.” (the artist Robert Longo interviewed by Artnet, 2012) Certainly, the use of monochrome has a significant impact on the pieces, greatly adding to their theatrical nature.

    Arguably, the most striking aspect of the piece is its sculptural quality. Through his incredibly realistic style, Longo captures the feeling of weight and depth in his subject matter, resulting in a three dimensional appearance. Furthermore, the statuesque nature of the lot is accentuated by the limited colour palette; the use of black and white gives the appearance of shining bronze. This modelling shows not only the grandeur and beauty in nature, but is also demonstrative of the artist’s skill in creating a texture reminiscent of water and metal solely with charcoal. Although his technique is highly aesthetic, the foreboding and dangerous nature of the wave is not lost. The sculptural style captures the weight of the wave which translates to its ability to destroy. Longo is fascinated by violence, specifically the moment of impact, as can be seen throughout his oeuvre in his depictions of explosions, gaping-mouthed sharks and writhing humans. In the case of the present work, the wave is caught at its upsurge, implying dangerous impact moments later. Thus, the beauty of the rising wave is captured whilst retaining the threatening nature of the piece. The realistic technique of his work and sombre colour palette serves to highlight the impending brutality of his subjects as well as their sculptural qualities; therefore Longo simultaneously shows the magnificence of nature and its definitive strength.

    The juxtaposition of light and dark in his work recalls the chiaroscuro technique used throughout art history to increase the dramatic element of a work, used most notably by Caravaggio. Although representational at first glance, the colour, atmosphere and style of the piece results in a conceptual work. “My work is photographically based but highly abstract ... if you have traditional representation and you have modernist abstraction, I think I exist somewhere in the middle, if anything I translate photographs.” (the artist Robert Longo and Paul Tschinkel, ART/new york, 2013) Furthermore, the mammoth size of the drawing gives an imposing feel that immediately grabs attention. The immense force and grandeur of the wave is fully discernible in this piece, and the viewer is urged to re-evaluate the familiar iconography of a tidal wave and to consider the theatrical beauty, impending violence and ultimate power of nature.


Spanish Blood

charcoal on mounted paper
143.5 x 119.5 cm. (56 1/2 x 47 in.)

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £170,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Evening Sale 10 February 2014 7pm