Robert Longo - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures, New York
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Metro Pictures, Robert Longo, The Outward and Visible Signs of an Inward and Invisible Grace, 3 November - 9 December 2006

  • Literature

    R. Longo, Robert Longo, New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, 2010, pp. 132-133 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Untitled (Saturn) is a piece from Robert Longo’s series of monumental charcoal drawings entitled The Outward and Visible Signs of an Inward and Invisible Grace (Bodies) executed between 2004 and 2006. The title of the series is derived from the catechism included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which defines a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us...’ This direct reference provides an interesting corollary to the vast image of space; it is singularly connected and at odds with the notion of creationism. The series depicts planets, stars and other celestial bodies, using high resolution images as reference images for the final drawing. In the present lot, Longo condenses objects of unimaginable scale into tangible, almost cinematic windows into the infinite space of the cosmos.

    Part of The Pictures Generation, a group of artists who explore the boundary between reality and construction, Robert Longo examines the power of the reproduced image. In the 1970s this group of artists, including Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince, followed in the wake of Warhol’s legacy. Speaking about his attitude towards the preceding Pop generation, Longo said ‘we were really eager to replace the people before us’ (R. Longo, with K. Reeves, Interview, April 2014). This sect of 1970s post-modernism, which draws heavily on appropriation, epitomises Longo’s approach to drawing, making us re-examine previously familiar, often iconic, subjects.

    Longo describes his approach to drawing as ‘sculptural’: ‘I always feel like I'm carving the image out rather than painting the image. I'm carving it out with erasers and tools like that. I've always had this fondness for sculpture’ (R. Longo interview with K. Reeves, Interview, April 2014). The artist’s dedication to the practice of drawing has been steadfast over the years, when he began his now-iconic Men In the City series in the early 1980s. Although, according to Longo, drawing and photography have long been considered ‘bastard art forms’ by the annals of art history, he embraces the potential of both mediums—particularly their inherently monochromatic nature.

    The use of black and white runs throughout Longo’s work not only because he chooses to work with charcoal, but also because he has a personal, nostalgic connection to the notion of the black and white image. Longo explains: ‘I’m a product of the still image. As a kid, I would stare endlessly at those pictures in Life. There would be a colour photo essay of the circus, and a colour photo essay on the president. And then you turn the page, and all the black-and-white pictures would be Vietnam, or the war in Calcutta. I think that maybe black-and-white, for me, is about telling the truth.’ (A. Walleston, ‘Drawing Democracy: Robert Longo at the Aldrich Museum,’ Art in America, April 2013) This created a sensibility that dies hard, or not at all, and has inspired Longo’s long career of recreating iconic images.

    The connection to photography also creates an ambiguous viewing experience, in which we question the reality of the image. Longo consciously blurs the line between photography and drawing, deliberately crafting images that are magically captivating. ‘Photography is our culture’s collective memory. I try to make my work not look too photographic, and at the same time I do not want them to have a drawn look. They have to occupy a middle ground. From a certain distance, they should put into question, ‘could that be a photograph?’ Then, the closer you get, you become aware of the fact that they are drawings and you’re pulled into an intimacy with them as a consequence’ (R. Longo interview with C. Smulders, ‘An Hour with Robert Longo,’ Robert Longo, New York, 2009, p. 34).

    There is a kind of dark magic that pervades the artist’s seductive and velvety charcoal drawings. Untitled (Saturn), in particular, evokes a cinematic quality that conveys the ‘epic’ nature of the image, which is transmitted through subject as well as expert draughtsmanship. In the words of Hal Foster, it shows ‘not only the labour involved in the process but the vision that deepens during it’ (H. Foster, ‘The American Friend,’ Robert Longo, Charcoal, Osfildern-Ruit, 2012, p. 24). Longo explains that he has ‘been dealing with these epic images, and I realized all of a sudden that I grew up in the age of epics.’ The present lot clearly demonstrates the sheer physicality of creation as well as the extreme subtleties of Longo’s mark making. Longo’s virtuosic rendering of the ringed planet is overwhelmingly existential forcing the viewer to contend with their small place in the universe.

    In Longo’s drawings, a heavy layer of charcoal is rubbed into white paper by hand, generating a tactile surface of dense, rich and impenetrable darkness. Longo uses an assortment of charcoals ranging in density and tone to realise the intense chiaroscuro and various types of erasers to manipulate and sculpt the drawing’s surface. His particular choice of support is carefully selected as well. ‘It's not handmade paper. It's machine-made, archival paper. It's a kind of cold roll paper. But it's extraordinary. The paper has a really particular surface on it, and then it was gone, and the replacement paper became much rougher, or artier, for lack of a better term. I finally called the factory up and said, ‘What's going on here?’ The guy at the factory knew my work and he was really excited that I was using his paper. So he started to make paper for me.’ (R. Longo, interview with K. Reeves, Interview, April 2014).

    After all, Longo’s drawings are elaborate, albeit human, constructions: ‘highly mediated pictures of objects in space and time, rendered from photographs, themselves the products of complex technologies and material histories. ‘Simulations’ was a term once used to describe his productions, and the word still rings true, just as the sentimentality of some ‘inward and invisible grace’ does not ring at all, particularly given the vacuum of space’ (J. Neil, ‘Robert Longo: The Outward and Visible Signs of an Inward and Invisible Grace,’ Art Review, February 2007, p. 132).


Untitled (Saturn)

charcoal on paper
182 x 315 cm (71 5/8 x 124 in.)

£200,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm