Lot 207
  • 207

GEORGE CONDO | Rainy Day Butler

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • George Condo
  • Rainy Day Butler
  • signed and dated 2012
  • acrylic, charcoal and pastel on linen
  • 65 by 80 in. 165.1 by 203.2 cm.


Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012 

Catalogue Note

George Condo’s Rainy Day Butler from 2012 is a searing visage of frenzied charcoal lines, lusciously textured acrylic neons, and gossamer washes of misty gray that stream and drip down the surface of the picture plane. Deriving its atmospheric title from the stunning pewter overtones that dominate the composition, the present work strikingly discloses Condo’s ability to effortlessly employ line, form, and color to conjure a climate that is contrastingly turbulent and calm. Within this densely layered compositional web, Condo’s iconic figurative motifs begin to emerge, forming a lyrical narrative starring the fumbling butler known as Jean-Louis. Consistently portrayed with ogling eyes and gimmicky bow-tie, Jean-Louis is the scoundrel attendant marked by his ineptitude and obsequious flattery. Also present is the waiter-valet Rodrigo who is identified by his cadmium red jacket sleeve and pegged as “a kind of lowlife, the one who parks your car” or “the piano player at a wedding, doing the worst song you’ve ever heard” (the artist in Calvin Tomkins, “Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo Reclaimed Old Master Painting,” The New Yorker, 17 January 2011). Both Jean-Louis and Rodrigo overlook the entangled and labyrinthine scene from his position in the upper right quadrant of the composition. Beneath their gaze, additional fractured bodies peek through the thicket of Condo’s black charcoal and thick paint, thereby setting the picture plane into a wildly alluring oscillation between figuration and abstraction. 

Heralding an unprecedented creative fervor of frenetically spontaneous mark-making, the present work departs from Condo’s more carefully planned portrait paintings toward a reckless embrace of the sketchy grit inherent in the alloyed mediums of sooty charcoal and pastel carved into wet acrylic. Belonging to the artist’s celebrated series of Drawing Paintings, the present work synergizes the traditionally disparate processes of drawing and painting into one fluid gestural expression, described by Condo as: “They are about freedom of line and color and blur the distinction between drawing and painting. They are about beauty and horror walking hand in hand. They are about improvisation on the human figure and its consciousness” (the artist in “George Condo: Drawing Paintings,” Skarstedt Gallery, 4 November 2011). Rainy Day Butler therefore showcases an especially significant type of technical innovation within Condo’s oeuvre. The present work marvels in Condo’s intellectual game that obfuscates and blurs the traditional delineations between drawing and painting, finished and unfinished, balanced and unbalanced, and flat two-dimensionality versus sculptural depth. Condo indeed disrupts the typical logic of his work by compressing the tangled mass of subject matter into the center of the composition, thus negating his prior reliance upon classical centralized compositional structure. Whereas Condo’s meticulously-crafted portraits reveal a steady and economic handling of paint, the present work basks in a liberal and unrestrained painterly freedom. Condo builds extraordinary surface texture and depth by juxtaposing sumptuous swathes of warm acrylic greys against the flailing trail of tar-like linear convolutions.


Condo was critically engaged throughout the eighties in the inauguration of a new form of figurative painting that stylistically blended the representational and the abstract. Condo coined the terms ‘artificial realism’ and ‘psychological cubism’ to define his hybridization of art historical influences, specifically to portray his fusion of the Old Master subject with the distorted geometric perspectives of Cubism. Through a prolific output of uniquely distorted portraits, Condo established himself by the turn of the century as one of the preeminent figurative painters of the contemporary era. Continuing to manipulate and subvert certain revered art historical tropes in his recent series of Drawing Paintings to which the present work belongs, Condo reinvigorates his distinctive style of abstract figuration by striking a rapturous balance between the beautiful and the grotesque. Rainy Day Butler perfectly exemplifies Condo’s creative mastery in the complete coexistence between his caricature of classical ideologies and his utterly clever innovation of emotional figuration within abstraction.


In the Cubist topography of the present work, sensuous line and Cézanne-like passages of flat color overlap in a web of unrestrained abstraction. From the obsequious butler to peaking nudes to leering white eyes, Condo’s fancifully imagined motifs of characters underscore his wry aesthetic of storytelling wherein soft cultural satire and erotically-charged innuendo prevail. The gridlock and patchwork that try to disclose Condo’s narrative also belie the integrity of its full meaning. As viewers, we are provoked to enter through the portal into a space where “beauty and horror” coexist, as the artist so claims, Yet just because we are invited into Condo’s world does not mean we can fully grasp it. Given Condo’s desire to elucidate the multifaceted nature of the human psyche, his work is rooted in complex layers of emotional depth that complicates an easy reading of meaning and narrative. Such psychological nuance and mystery is central to the allure of Condo’s output and is marvelously realized in the present work. Exuding gorgeous permutations of line, color and form, Rainy Day Butler endures as a stunning reminder of Condo’s elusive genius in the act of figuration and abstraction.