With his polymorphous, polyglottal idiom of synthesised artistic languages, George Condo combines in The Life of Jean Louis
elements of Picassoid Cubism, Mannerist ornamentalism, neo-Dadaism and Looney Tunes cartoonishness to create a collage of implacable energy and unquestionable uniqueness; conveying by this act the diffuse tapestry of postmodern American experience. Jagged, Basquiat-reminiscent brushstrokes on canvas configure Condo’s inimitable entourage of humanoid phantasms, including the fictional French butler Jean Louis referenced by the title. Relaying the ferocious wisdom of the most arresting street art, facial features appear to jostle for space; merging with one another in a disorienting urban cacophony that emits sporadic bursts of intense colour. While parts of the canvas are stripped away to reveal the raw ground underneath, others are plastered with generous swathes of white paint; unifying the antonyms of con- and destruction. On scraps of paper adhered to the canvas, fascinating mini-dramas – rendered by Condo in ink or graphite – play out within this broader scene; enticing us into their hermetic universe before ejecting us out again into the containing world. On these paper sections we find more of Condo’s characters, conveying by turns an eccentric fusion of likability, loneliness, deviousness and alienation. We find, too, a page from a catalogue: the details of a Rembrandt self-portrait. The work itself is rendered unrecognisable – emblazoned with crosshairs and plastered with US postage stamps – providing a self-reflexive, satirical iteration of Rauschenbergian neo-Dadaism.
Condo is a veritable polymath, and his figurations are intensified when nested within a larger abstract collage such as the present work. Our experience of The Life of Jean Louis – disjoint adventures into figurative mini-verses, punctuated by the traversal of more abstracted forms – seems structurally to resemble the experiential rabbit-holes of postmodern life. The title of the present work, then, is no coincidence: this is, after all, a life that is reproduced. This experience also contrasts with the phenomenology of Condo’s previous abstract experiments. In his Expanding Canvases of the 1980s, Condo creates dense all-over worlds into the whole of which the viewer falls at once. The figurative and abstracted elements in the present work, on the other hand, engage in a fascinating exchange; each serving to heighten the viewer’s experience of the other. A great part of the power of The Life of Jean Louis derives from its containing a multitude of internal worlds, potentially discoverable and investigable by the delving gaze of the viewer.