Fully departing from his early style of portraiture that relied heavily on an Old Master sensibility of dark baroque backgrounds and ample brownish tones, the present work is a fresh realization of Condo’s recent output. Beginning with the large, slightly amorphous brushy sections of lavender, coral, pewter gray, and glacial blue that compose the background, and moving in toward the more carefully deposited polygonal sections of electric neon yellows and greens throughout the face and bust, Condo creates a type of figurative puzzle that oscillates between representation and pure abstraction. Untitled revels in the ingenuity of Condo’s fast-paced painting style and spontaneous mark-making. Most compelling are the moments where the soot-like charcoal and chalk pastel are carved into the acrylic, creating enchanting moments of collision between wet and dry. Though the charcoal outlines of ears, teeth, and eyes are visible, the entire physiognomy of the face is splayed and fractured so as to complicate the representational narrative. The bust meanwhile is flattened and obliterated, transforming into a mere support for the cacophony of color and depth that is the head. “Monsters are just as beautiful as maidens,” Condo has claimed, and the work flourishes between the serene and the grotesque (the artist in conversation with Anney Bonney, “George Condo,” BOMB 40, 1 July 1992).
Since his emergence onto the 1980s New York art scene alongside figures such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Condo has solidified his place as one of the leading painters of his generation. Like Haring and Basquiat, Condo was critically engaged throughout the eighties in a new form of figurative painting that stylistically blended the representational and the abstract. As he continued to develop his personal style, 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 geometric perspectives of Cubism. Since then, Condo has continued to mine the formal possibilities of art historical tropes to push the boundaries and defy expectations for both painting and portraiture in a modern setting. Building upon years of refining and maturing his iconic figurative style, Untitled reveals an artist now at the height of his career, utterly uninhibited and full of instinctive creative fervor. Now more than ever, he insists on painting as a vehicle to show the inherent absurdity of contemporary life. As the artist has stated, “I see today’s world as it is! Absurd and exaggerated—and I need to turn it into something truthful. As an artist you are a mirror, but simply reflecting today’s culture is not enough, it has to come through as a visual correction” (the artist in Dorian May, “Portrait of an Artist. George Condo,” Vanity Fair, 5 July 2018).
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