George Condo cited in: Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: ‘I Was Delirious. Nearly Died’’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014, online
From a cycle of large-scale paintings executed in 2014, Percussion Beats captures the raw dynamism and psychological intensity of George Condo’s recent work. Painted in Condo’s East Hampton studio, this group of paintings were exhibited to critical acclaim in a solo-exhibition at Skarstedt Gallery, New York, in the year of their creation. On account of the vast size of the canvases, and the confined studio space in which they were produced, Condo was necessitated to approach his compositions and materials at close range: the resulting paintings demonstrate a significant correlation between the artist’s myopic perspective, and the subject matter’s probing insight into the inconsistencies and imperfections of the human psyche. In Percussion Beats, the viewer is presented with a world in disarray, in which bug-eyed, cartoonish faces and fragmented, abstract planes majestically collide. Juxtaposed against what appears to be a cerulean, cloud-streaked sky with swathes of glistening silver paint, this explosive synthesis of colour and form evocatively recalls Pablo Picasso’s masterful Cubist facture: yet, where Picasso radically shattered the picture plane to explore multiple viewpoints in the same moment, Condo ruptures his compositions to reveal the multifaceted and kaleidoscopic complexities of human emotion through his aptly self-termed mode of ‘psychological cubism’. “I try to depict a character’s train of thoughts simultaneously – hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation,” the artist explains: “if you could see these things at once that would be like what I’m trying to make you see in my art” (George Condo cited in: Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: ‘I Was Delirious. Nearly Died’’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014, online).
While Picasso’s fractured and distorted forms have long been a source of influence for Condo, this body of work marks a new area of exploration for the artist. In works such as the present, Condo has expanded his remit to reach deeper into mid-century movements for inspiration, incorporating painterly techniques evocative of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and geometric configurations that recall the vibrant, abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. "The only way for me to feel the difference between every other artist and me is to use every artist to become me,” Condo has remarked (George Condo cited in: ibid.). In the backdrop of Percussion Beats, the artist has experimented with sweeping painterly gestures, much like the Abstract Expressionists, which imbue the work with a sense of volatile energy and kinetic force. By no means a purely abstract composition, however, the painting teeters on the periphery of representation as a myriad of half-formed, clown-like visages tantalisingly emerge and recede across the picture plane. Condo’s practice is deeply concerned with examining representations of the figure throughout art history, and the genre of portraiture is elevated to a position of tremendous importance within his creative output. Woven into the fabric of his paintings is a renewed interest in inserting art historical tropes in a playful and absurd new context that simultaneously revives, and humorously undermines, the integrity of Old Master portrait paintings. Indeed, in a nod to the action painters of the Twentieth Century, Condo has referred to these recent works as ‘action portraits’ for their capricious dynamism.
The canvas in Percussion Beats glimmers with thick dabs of silver metallic paint, as if in homage to Andy Warhol’s famous Silver Factory of the 1960s and the silver paintings he produced in these years such as Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963. Like Warhol, Condo confronts notions of repetition in his paintings, not only in terms of colour and form, but also through his almost compulsive insistence on recalling and conversing with the canon of art history. In reinterpreting historical and past works, Condo’s practice seeks to renew, and challenge, the medium of painting in a contemporary context. As curator Ralph Rugoff states, “George Condo has explored the outer suburbs of acceptability while making pictures that, for all their outrageous humour, are deeply immersed in memories of European and American traditions of painting” (Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, New Museum (and travelling), George Condo: Mental States, 2011, p. 11). Yet, whilst Condo’s oeuvre is steeped in art historical reverberations, his distinctive style is founded not only upon his erudite knowledge of the field of art, but also of music. The artist had studied both art history and music theory at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and, during the heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s East Village art scene in New York, was in a punk band called The Girls that performed alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat’s experimental band Gray in 1979. As its title infers, Percussion Beats is infused with a sense of rhythm and polyphony that stems from Condo’s spontaneous, gestural improvisations. In its delicate balance of humour and pathos, innovation and revival, the present work beautifully embodies Condo’s artistic aims.
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