My first exposure to George Condo’s highly recognizable style of painting happened when I saw his 2010-2011 exhibit, Mental States, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. I thought the show was pretty cool, but I can totally understand how some might consider his artwork to be an acquired taste.
People who don’t go to art galleries and museums — if they know Condo at all — probably know him as the artist who took a $40,000 Hermes Birkin Bag that Kanye West bought as a gift for Kim Kardashian and, at West’s request, “ruined” (not my words) it by custom painting a group of nude figures on the bag’s exterior. My feeling on the matter is that if you can afford to buy Birkin Bags, you can afford to have one custom painted by George Condo. Because, why not? Condo has also painted the artwork for a number of West’s CDs. That is nice work if you can get it, I am sure.
If you’re lucky enough to live in NYC, you can see a series of Condo’s new, large canvas paintings over at Skarstedt Gallery right now! The exhibit is entitled Double Heads / Black Paintings / Abstractions, and these paintings were created in 2014 at the artist’s East Hampton studio. Impressive!
Condo’s Double Heads and Black Paintings continue his investigation of the concept of portraiture. In these most recent works, Condo has adopted Harold Rosenberg’s idea of ‘action painting’ — a term used to describe the performative, often volatile energy exercised by Abstract Expressionist painters like de Kooning and Pollock — to create his own ‘action portraits.’ Through an elaborate process of layering, erasure, and reconstruction, shattered images of faces and bodies emerge from and interact within a field of abstract forms. This makes sense when you know that Condo, being well versed in art history, often references known artists by adopting their styles and techniques into his work.
Incorporating the use of silver metallic paint in Double Portrait in Grisaille on Silver, 2014, and other works in this series, Condo references Warhol’s silver paintings from the 1960’s such as Double Elvis. After preparing a ground of silver paint on canvas, Condo applies ivory black onto loose sheets of paper, which is then transferred onto the canvasses, giving them the look and surface quality of a screen print. He then creates a schism in this form by subsequently employing the traditional technique of grisaille to draw out the figures by hand.
In creating such large-scale paintings in a very confined studio space, Condo has been forced to work ‘inside’ his paintings, addressing both subject and material at close range — never stepping too far back from the canvas to allow the image in his mind to entirely materialize. Both gestural improvisation and concrete imagery are evident as he forcefully pushes and pulls the paint around the surface of the canvas until a final image emerges, fully formed yet haunted by the process of its becoming. In Beginnings, 2014, a large square format painting, a single eye peers out from the devastation of what at one time might have been a full portrait. This process of addition, subtraction and layering evokes a visceral response to both the handling of paint and the subject of the painting.
Partially obscured by violent brush marks, the likenesses of the figures and characters in Condo’s paintings are integrations of forms that the brushwork fractures. Facial features peek out from underneath fields of color as broad strokes of bold black and white paint shatter the pictorial plane. The simultaneous multiple expressions of his portraits speak to the volatility of human emotions and the unpredictability — even hilarity — of the characters one encounters in urban life.
The abstract works in this exhibition fluctuate between the lyrical and the hysterical, building upon the cacophony of interacting forms for which Condo is known. In Silver Mass, 2014, as well as several other works on view, Condo extends the lineage of his series of abstract ‘expanding canvasses’, which began in the early 1980’s, to invent ever new painterly forms and hints of human expression.
Double Heads / Black Paintings / Abstractions by George Condo will be on view through December 20th, 2014 at Skarstedt Gallery, Located at 550 W. 21st Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.