Robert Longo b&w Ab Ex


Robert Longo After Dekooning (Woman and Bicycle, 1952 – 53) (2013-2014) charcoal on mounted paper 229 x 147cm

Now that I’m back to painting in black and white, I’m thinking a lot about what kind of painting approaches are effective without colour. I don’t like the idea of making paintings that look like they could be better in colour, like black and white reproductions in old art books.

So I was interested to find this Robert Longo exhibition from 2014. They’re painstaking charcoal drawings of Abstract Expressionist paintings. It’s a conceptual appropriation project as much as an aesthetic one, but the first thing I thought when I glanced at these installation photos was – yes, painterly paintings without colour can totally work.


[installation view] Robert Longo Gang of Cosmos at Metro Pictures 2014


Robert Longo After Mitchell (Ladybug, 1957) 2013 charcoal on mounted paper 175 x 244cm


[installation view] Robert Longo Gang of Cosmos at Metro Pictures 2014

Here’s Longo talking about the exhibition, and the process of translating the coloured paintings into black and white. He says:

“The translation into black and white was a really big aspect to deal with. I think that’s incredibly abstract to begin with.”

I’ve never thought of the removal of colour from an image as a process of abstraction, but of course it’s true.

Possibly with this in mind, I painted this today. I don’t like the picture much, but I like the paint.


170218b Car Accident (2017) oil on canvas


3 thoughts on “Robert Longo b&w Ab Ex

  1. Might your removal of colour from an image, as a conscious abstraction of it, perhaps inform you more closely of its colour, even that part of its colour that on one obvious level is not open to you?

    Either way, if Longo galvanises you in understanding and entering this process, you’re way ahead.


    • I don’t understand what you mean in the first sentence. I’m painting in black and white as a means of escaping the colour issue, and it’s a huge relief. Banging my head against that wall has been a distraction from all the other aspects of painting that I can actually see and get my teeth into. I couldn’t resist trying, but I’m so glad I’ve let it go for now. What I like about the Longo phrase is just the connection between achromaticism and abstraction – I’d never made that link, even though the removal of colour is so obviously a form of abstraction! It’s expanded my idea of what it means to abstract. This coincides with me recently finding that my black and white paintings are coming out in an almost brittle illustrational style, which isn’t really what I want, it just happens, and the tighter the representation gets, the more convinced I am that soon it’s going to snap and splinter into something more complicated – something more abstract. So, in that context, it’s fun to think of formal abstraction and chromatic abstraction as two expressions of the same impulse to abstract. If that makes any sense.


      • Oh it makes so much sense. My first thought is that you’ve found an express lane, you’ve used such upbeat language about this framing of b&w work, that of course you must run with that. It’s like you’ve found an extra gear.

        My first sentence that you didn’t understand, you didn’t understand probably because I am a klutz and so often tie myself up with words. I think I was also imagining that you, as well as Longo, were getting into abstraction as removal of colour. My point was, that if you were also experimenting in this, that you would also be dealing with colour. Removing it is not a negative, reductive process – all sorts of judgments and choices come into it – you will/Longo would have a certain objective in mind, or unconsciously in mind. I’m surmising that this involves to some extent, choices about substitution or re-imagining the colour. This is dealing with colour – even though it ends up without it. And in DEALING with colour, my point was that you are probably getting to know more about it – even knowing more about what you can’t see.

        As I’ve typed the above para. it is clearly full of dodgy logic. But the discussion isn’t wasted I trust.

        And I will never leave alone reminding you that colour is still in your life; that you are the primary audience; that I reckon you nail it anyway; that it doesn’t matter if there are cock-ups if it is satisfying you as an endeavour to be messing around with colour.

        But it is exciting that you are in full flight with black and white. I’ve currently got a John Berger primer in my pocket for rides on the tube here in Sydney. I think it was him who said, and anyway it’s trite and true for all to see, that black and white images lack nothing in potential for either the painter of the viewer. He goes further and says that a thoroughly expert technique in black and white is a necessary pre-requisite for using colour.

        i don’t see all the points of observation and self criticism you’ve made regarding your black and white painting. That’s cool, it is rarefied, or maybe I mean it’s a painter’s eye that gets into this level of viewing. And you seem not to be fazed, rather pleased with such insights, and keen to explore around these issues.

        I’m marching in Mardi Gras on Saturday here in Sydney and then partying. There will definitely be nothing in Black and White!


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