Robert Longo in conversation with Shanti Escalante-De Mattei.
Over the past several years, Robert Longo, the famed Pictures Generation artist, has begun creating work inflected with his political views, reflecting on some of today’s most pressing issues from the global migrant crisis to the Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice.
Longo is currently the subject of a solo exhibition, “A History of the Present,” at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York, which features two recent charcoal-drawing series: “The Agency of Faith,” enlarged images of things like a field of cotton, a Native American headdress, and a protest scene, as well as “Gang of Cosmos,” re-creations of iconic Abstract-Expressionist paintings by the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and others. (The exhibition was the subject of a recent short documentary, Present History by the Artist Profile Archive, in which Longo discusses the development of of his work.)
Next week, Pace Gallery, which began representing Longo earlier this year, will open an exhibition of the final installment of his drawings series “The Destroyer Cycle,” which chronicled the Trump presidency and will end with a new work based on images culled from the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
To get more insight into these two exhibition, ARTnews spoke with Longo by phone.
ARTnews: What sparked your interest in making political art?
Robert Longo: It was [Ronald] Reagan who lit the flame under me, for sure. From the very beginning my work had a political edge. I think the biggest difference now is my rage is cranked up quite a bit. There was a picture in the newspaper of riot cops in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot. When I saw that picture in the New York Times I was so shocked, I thought this must be Ukraine, Iraq, but in the background I saw a little McDonald’s sign, an Exxon, I said to myself, “That’s here.” I wanted to rip chunks of images of the world and put them in front of people, ask them what they think about it. Ask people to take a stance.