Quite aside from these stylistic concerns, it is well worth examining the purpose of Condo’s distortions, namely the desire to emulate Cubism, not for its attempt to show an object from various different angles, but rather by reflecting the ever changing, and often conflicting emotions of the human psyche in paint. Any traces of physical individuality are abandoned here, in favour of mapping out the furthest extremes of the human condition, a process that Condo has described as ‘psychological Cubism’.
Condo’s figurative work can be described in part as an assault upon the traditions of portraiture. Through his attempt to capture the embodied psychological essence of his subjects, Condo breaks the conceit of portrait painting as a whole, eliminating the illusion that drives it. As the artist has stated, “the affected part of people is the interesting side to me. It’s the real side of them that’s boring”, and there can be little doubt that portraiture as a whole is an affectation (George Condo in conversation with Anney Bonney in: BOMB 40, 1 July 1992, online). The portrait that emerges from an artist’s studio is propagandistic – it conveys the reality that the subject wants to transmit. However, through his attempts to trace psychology, rather than appearance, Condo subverts this aim, denying his figures the ability to curate their own image.
Clearly, this lampooning of established artistic mores, as well as of canonical artists themselves, serves to conflate lofty cultural aspiration with something altogether more base. The clownish and absurd representation of human nature and desire demonstrates the ease with which even the most admirable of intentions can become confused and perverted. Over the last three decades, in canvases that articulate this kind of potent and mixed emotional charge, to quote curator Ralph Rugoff, “Condo has explored the outer suburbs of acceptability while making pictures that, for all of their outrageous humor, are deeply immersed in memories of European and American traditions of painting” (Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, George Condo: Mental States, 2011, p. 11).
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