George Condo is considered a pioneer of the international revival of figurative painting. From 1985, he spent over a decade living in Paris, where he began an intensive investigation of Old Master paintings. Since then, he has developed a unique pictorial language – often termed ‘artificial realism’ – that sweeps the gamut of Western art history. Multifaceted figures assembled from fragments of faces and geometrical forms exude the painterly lexica of Rembrandt, Velazquez, Fragonard and Picasso, whilst also flaunting references to Cubism, Surrealism, Pop art and comic books. With his play between abstraction and figuration, and his combination of elements from high and everyday culture, Condo repudiates genre-defined hierarchies within painting.
A continuing focus for the artist has been an unconventional handling of the portrait genre. Six 'psychological cubist' portraits featured within the show testify to his endeavors to corrupt classical representations of the face as the point at which subjectivity and narrative meaning converge. Mostly listening to late John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, Condo involves their violent and harmonic approach to music in his works. All prospect of physiognomic comprehension is fractured into startling facial details: rows of teeth, spider-like sets of eyelashes, 'bugged-out' eyes and dense tangles of hair. The abstracted contours of the face form a tessellation of brightly colored planes marked out in thick black lines that bring to mind portraits by Picasso or Klee.
In the late 1970s Condo moved from Boston to New York, working for Andy Warhol in the Factory as a screen-printer. His two diptychs directly reference Warhol’s infamous Myths series that featured subjects as diverse as Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mouse. Replicating Warhol’s favored quadrant formation, the artist superimposes facial features to distort his portraits into chaotic compositions: a mouth becomes a nose; an oversized ear becomes a cartoonish snout. Not limited to his portraits, Condo creates mayhem out of dislocated limbs and facial features elsewhere in the exhibition. The upward motion of dense abstracted forms in Zombie Modernism (2015) reads like a comic book that begs to be deciphered. The flat colors of its background evoke Mondrian, whilst the title is a playful nod to Condo’s gusto for resurrecting Modernist characteristics and disfiguring them to address the zeitgeist of his own era.
A series of three paintings, Impressions of Goya 1-3 (2016), pay homage to the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. Whilst living in Paris, Condo worked alongside a certified copyist at the Louvre to hone his imitation of Old Master techniques. Here, he had the chance to study Goya’s The Countess of Carpio, Marquesa de la Solana (1794-95). Condo’s versions on show feature the same background as the original, using flat swathes of unmodulated color. However, he brings the full weight of abstraction to bear on the Countess’ face so that she appears to be almost entirely without features or expression.
Through a hybrid of references to his own practice and the art historical traditions that precede him, Entrance to the Void offers a considered précis on George Condo’s progressive stance toward painting. Moreover, this new body of work showcases his ability to evoke pathos for his subjects through abstracted bodily details that reveal human existence as tragic, comic, and at times, bewildering.