- George Condo: Paintings, SculptureBy George Condo
- The Imaginary Portraits of George CondoBy George Condo, Ralph Rugoff
Important Art by George Condo
In this painting, several bizarre objects (including, from left to right, a red and brown object that looks like a toppled mushroom, a carrot-like plant, a white bust of a bald human head, and two flaming furnaces) sit in an empty green field under a stormy blue and grey sky. In the background, the edge of a forest is suggested. The "naturalness" of the scene is called into question by the inclusion of a straight red band across the bottom edge of the painting. In front of this red line, in the right hand corner, sits an irregular dark form, recalling a volcanic rock formation, or an old tree stump.
Even in this early work, Condo was exploring combinations of different viewpoints on art history in a way that overcame the limitations of direct citation and appropriation. Condo is experimenting here with replicating the mood and feel of early twentieth century Surrealist works such as those produced by René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. The inclusion of a moody twilight sky, and long, dark shadows, recalls Magritte's interest in the relationship between day, night, and dusk. The bizarre collection of foreground objects, meanwhile, recalls Dali's use of strange objects like melting clocks and anthropomorphic tree trunks.
Commenting on his early works in 1988, art critic Roberta Smith wrote that "Mr. Condo makes things that look like paintings, that have the presence, completeness and frontal tautness of paintings, yet in some essential way are not so much paintings as artifacts, signs of another time and place, layered thickly with talent and nostalgia and a particularly dandyish form of conservatism. These artifacts are, at times, also extremely smart Conceptual objects".
Surrealist Landscape precedes Condo's move to Paris by two years, and comes six years before he articulated his concept of "artificial realism". We see here then his early attempts to experiment with the discrete art historical styles and movements that would later serve as the source material for works in which Condo would blend these various styles.
This enormous painting, which Condo completed in Keith Haring's studio in the East Village, is packed with a frenzy of figures rendered in a Cubist style. The dominant colors are brown and black while the painting as a whole marries the improvisational feel of the Beat movement and jazz music with a more cogitated aspect which Condo took from contemporary French philosophy.
In this work, as in many others, Condo references a variety of styles and earlier artists, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and Willem de Kooning. We also see the influence of Analytic Cubism, with fragmented geometric shapes and a monochromatic color palette. By blending these various influences in a single painting, Condo demonstrates his philosophy that the function of contemporary painting is not to invent, but to repurpose and recombine preexisting styles. In his view, the blending and juxtaposition of various influences serves as a metaphor for the fragmented and multisensory nature of contemporary life.
Art critic Holland Cotter says of the painting that it looks "from a distance, like [an exercise] in nuanced color and tone. But as you come closer, intricate, all-over networks of imagery come into focus: popping eyes, open mouths, breasts, hands, heads, all recognizable from the portraits. The patterns are so detailed and attention demanding as to be exhausting". The title of the work refers to jazz musician Miles Davis, whose free-form jazz music was often turbulent and restless (Condo paid homage to Miles Davis in other works too, including his 1991 etching and aquatint series More Sketches of Spain - For Miles Davis). Condo represents this auditory upheaval in a visual manner. The painting thus serves as an illustration of Condo's "psychological cubism" technique in which he seeks to represent various emotional states within a single canvas.
In this painting, a single female figure is presented against a black background. Her body and face are grotesquely distorted, with her head being disproportionately small to her body; her bulbous nose sitting between two eyes of different sizes, and her shoulders slanted asymmetrically. She wears a red button-up top with a white collar. An apple sits atop her head, and an arrow appears to pierce her head through the ears. Her hair is made up of several colors, including purple, blue, brown, and gray.
Condo believes that one of the most consistent aspects of his work involves the representation of human consciousness. Indeed, he has painted several bizarre characters like this, including Cave Woman (2001), The Cracked Cardinal (2004), Boxer (2006), The Butler (2007) and The Homeless Hobo (2009). In these portraits, Condo prefers to show the sorts of regular people that make up the world, rather than the "glamorous" individuals that we usually see on magazine covers and in various other forms of media. Referring to The Secretary, art critic Jennifer Higgie writes that "Condo is not, to put it mildly, averse to a little exaggeration. Eyes, for example, are a part of the body the artist rates highly, as, obviously, have many painters before him - but in his cosmos they're transformed from windows to the soul into little holes of horror or inflated glutinous orbs, jelly rocks that occasionally roll from their sockets to balance lightly, say, on the end of a perky-haired girl's nose".
In his portraits, Condo references various moments from art history, blending the formality of Old Master portraits with the cheeky humor of Pop Art and cartoons. This work blends various artistic influences designed to confound the viewer about what type of art they are actually looking at. Many of his portraits involve cartoonish aspects. Condo explains that "The cartoon is a very bizarre weapon against the sort of intellectual concept of what our supposedly high-art culture is all about [...] I think the interest is that it's a sort of an entry into a certain kind of serious component of the human psyche".