Condo’s ability to manipulate the traditional notions of portraiture is driven by his ongoing investigations of the boundaries of the genre, a tradition that for much of the twentieth century was in decline, and that the artist has personally helped to reinvigorate. Smiling Girl with Black Hair is framed in a deliberately classical fashion; the sitter is shown in three-quarter profile, recalling the aristocratic portraiture of the Renaissance. While remaining steadfast in his references to the past, Condo is careful to imbue his imagery with the sense of the present, bringing together these more archaic references with a lively and jolting sense of color and complex, impenetrable compositional elements.
As a founding principle of Condo’s oeuvre, Psychological Cubism is on full display in the present work with the hallucinogenic state of the subject. A pictorial mode that emulates Cubism, not in its attempt to show an object from various angles, but by setting to paint the internal and ever-changing emotions within human nature, his paintings synthesize a host of emotions. Condo notes, “I may build a figure by giving it the features of two people; or I may give it the form of one person but think of it in the dream as having the name of another person; or I may have a visual picture of one person, but put it in a situation which is appropriate to another. In all these cases the combination of different persons into a single representative in the content of the dream has a meaning.” (The artist in Exh. Cat., London, Simon Lee Gallery, George Condo, 2007, p. 20).
Bringing together multiple states of consciousness, the present work recalls the varied emotional states and inner turmoil of Francis Bacon’s various tormented characters, compressed into a single figure. The influence of the spatial distortions in Bacon’s work can be seen in Condo’s own investigations into variations on geometrical and organic forms. In Smiling Girl with Black Hair, Condo employs these contradictory visual representations of human emotion and sentiment, through various conflicting features, revealing his sitter’s inner most fears and desires. 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: Exhibition Catalogue, Athens, Portolakis Collection, Over the Limit, 2005, p. 3). Eschewing a strict adherence to physical appearance as a criteria for successful portraiture, Condo instead strives to capture the pathos and nuance of the spectrum of emotional states inherent to the contemporary experience as a means of reflecting not only individual experience but a broader shared culture.
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