An amalgamation of art historical references and styles, the skillfully executed Woman on Brown Chair is refreshingly liberated from the art historical canon; indeed, Condo's portrait seems to problematize the very genre of portraiture, parodying any attempt at naturalism. The darkened, murky backdrop and auburn chair recall the richly rendered portraits of Rembrandt, their subjects resplendently emerging from chiaroscuro depths. Partially obscured by her own mask of shadow, however, Condo’s Woman on Brown Chair meets our gaze through the fractured facial landscape of Cubism, revealing a distorted amalgamation of bulbous cheeks, Hapsburg jaw, scarlet smile, and manic stare. Beyond her warped visage, the only signs of distress are in the tensed fingers of her arched hand; yet even here, the slenderness of her long fingers recalls the aristocratic elegance of Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. Figure and form are rendered in precise, controlled brushstrokes, the refined variations in shading of the brown chair as skilled as that of any Dutch master. Masterfully combining a vast array of art historical modes, Condo internalizes multiple pictorial languages to form his own brand of psychologically charged portraiture. Speaking the year before this portrait was painted, Condo revealed: “I believe that painting needs to transform in order for it to become interesting for each and every generation, but I think of it more in terms of being liberated by history. Liberated by what has come before.” (the artist cited in Ralph Rugoff, “The Enigma of Jean Louis,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Luhring Augustine Gallery, George Condo: Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005-2006, 2006, p. 7) Condo’s playful disregard for the chronological progression of art history recalls the work of Philip Guston, whose late figurative paintings shocked the art world with their dismissal of abstraction, predating by several years the triumphant return of figurative painting in the 1980’s. Echoing this whimsical irreverence for precedent in his work, Condo notes: “When we actually thought for years that time should have a chronological order, we were only destroying ourselves.” (George Condo, Unpublished Text, 1976, in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, New York, 2015, p. 8)
Breaking free from the shroud of his historical forebears, Condo thrusts his compositions into a fantastic, hallucinogenic state that he refers to as “Psychological Cubism”: a pictorial mode that emulates Cubism, not in its attempt to show an object from various different angles, but by setting to paint the internal and ever-changing emotions within human nature. Condo’s caricatures are not abstractions of humanity, but are intended as honest, unedited accounts of the paradoxes and complexities of human nature. The deformity of his subjects is tempered by a bittersweet poignancy, their hysterical visages exposing the raw extremes of the psyche to the illuminating light of portraiture. An icon of twenty-first century artistic production, Condo boasts a unique ability to evoke and render the full spectrum of human emotions, has exemplified by the profoundly expressive and psychologically enigmatic nature of the present work. Playfully grotesque and amusingly uncanny, Condo’s paintings allow the viewer to step beyond the borders of our aesthetic maps, forcing us to consider that which we feel and experience before such surreal reflections of our own humanity.
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