Executed in 2006, The Butler depicts Jean-Louis, a key figure from George Condo’s infamous cast of characters depicted in his iconic eccentric and psychedelically caricatured portraits. In the present work, Condo offers a particularly intimate portrait, presenting the butler in close proximity to the viewer through the tightly cropped composition around the figure of Jean Louis. The butler’s upward gaze and glistening eyes subtly betray the artist’s fondness for his subject. Alone and dignified in an immaculate bow tie this iteration of Jean-Louis strikes a particularly sympathetic tone.
This depiction of Jean-Louis in The Butler offers an eloquent illustration of the artist’s primary concern that has defined decades of artistic practice, his concept of Artificial Realism, “the realistic representation of that which is artificial”. In his imaginary characters, Condo deconstructs one reality in order to construct another. Whilst the artist portrays fictionalised characters, these figures are indeed contemporary depictions of the quotidian world. In the artist’s words “essentially what I am painting is […] a new conjunctive hyper-reality or hybrid image” (Ibid.). The result is a Shakespearian troupe of fictitious personalities, whose imagined lives shed light on the nature of contemporary existence. As Alexandra Koroxenidis describes, Condo’s portraits “touch upon existential matters, but, at the same time, treat man as part of a broader reality, trampling upon contemporary social issues” (Alexandra Koroxenidis in: Exh. Cat., Athens, Portolakis Collection, Over the Limit, 2005, p. 3).
Rendered in hurried gestural brushstrokes reminiscent of the delicate strokes of Claude Monet’s hand, and bearing a subdued background calling to mind Rembrandt’s infamous broody self-portraits, in the present work Condo conducts a symphony of artistic references to playfully disrupt conventional ideas of portraiture. The artist’s use of humour and absurdity of figuration firmly positions him as the successor of a rich lineage of caricaturists, from the likes of William Hogarth to Honoré Daumier. Condo is an indiscriminate lover of artistic languages, and a champion of postmodern pastiche weaving a polyphony of references and disjointed images into a brilliant patchwork of visual quotations. Condo describes his dextrous juggling of such a wildly diverse vocabulary of visual languages as producing a “kind of harmonic resolution of opposites” (Ibid., p. 8).
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