For all their copious references, Condo’s paintings are not quotations, pastiches or appropriations. They are products of a painterly project that mines the history of art while simultaneously challenging the justification for contemporary painting. The historically coded, painterly idioms he uses extend from the religious light of the Baroque to the iridescent tones of Florentine cangiante, to techniques he finds in Dürer, Rembrandt or Caravaggio. There is also the vocabulary of modernism and abstraction—echoes of de Kooning’s lines, Matisse’s colors and, of course, Picasso. Yet regardless of the formal vocabulary he uses, be it Old Masters or abstraction, Condo’s choice of subject systematically destroys familiar pictorial structures and demolishes the painting’s semantic field. His oeuvre is like a wild, technically brilliant art historical delirium that reconfigures past and present in a complex synthesis. He himself has termed this process “Artificial Realism.”
Condo’s career encompasses not only a variety of formal vocabularies, but also a variety of media, including collage, drawing, and sculpture. Time and again he has returned to the medium of drawing to not only shed new light on the territory between the abstract and the figurative, but also to disrupt preconceived notions about the difference between drawing and painting. Developing a method he calls “psychological Cubism,” he composes his figures and portraits not from the Cubist technique of different perspectives, but rather in a range of simultaneous emotional and psychological states.
One unifying aspect of Condo’s works is their shared dystopian, yet empathic take on humanity and our time. His oeuvre teems with cartoonish portraits, grotesque grimaces, absurd group sex scenes and detached, oddly animated body parts. In his dark, psychological landscapes, beauty and horror usually go hand in hand, and his damaged figures thrive on melodrama, seesawing between seduction and rejection. Bearing traits of both ecstasy and madness, they are forever on the verge of an uncontrollable frenzy. And yet they appear to meet with surprising sanguinity the desolation of their time and world.