As I’ve been drawing and painting more and more throughout lockdown, I’ve found myself searching for inspiration from artists who resonate with me. Not only their take on the world, but also their technique, medium and message.
One such artist that resonated with me is George Condo.
I first learned of him when I stumbled upon an interview he did with Louisiana Channel on YouTube. After watching I bought pretty much every book that covered his work. I’ve also been trying to buy a couple of pieces.
He describes his work as artificial realism.
This is the realistic representation of that which is artificial, the principals of artificial realism guide Condo’s construction of a motley crew of fictional characters whose imagined lives provide a fanciful recreation of our contemporary world.
His characters, who spring not from dreams or drug-induced hallucinations but rather his take on the absurdities of everyday life, cause the greatest stir. “They’re not the kind of people you want to spend a lot of time staring at – they’re not on the covers of magazines,” he says. “When you see a crowd of people coming out of a subway and one crabby old lady is elbowing some guy to get out of her way and some strange bickering starts to take place, those kinds of expressions are far more interesting to me.”
He has skewered priests from his Catholic childhood, stockbrokers and even Queen Elizabeth, but there is also pathos in his art. “I tend to think I can make a hero out of a bum,” he says. He compares himself to a playwright creating multi-dimensional characters. “What’s possible with painting that’s not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time, and you can capture what I call a psychological cubism.” One eye might be joyfully staring at a delicious dinner, while the other has just witnessed a car crash. “I like that because the human being has so much of that inside of him.”
Condo’s inimitable figures serve as a mirror for human nature – their embellished features contorting into expressions of pain, anger, and loss which are at once sympathetic and revolting and encourage the viewer to wonder at their own contradictory nature.
“Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one time,” Condo said. “I do the same with psychological states.”
Personally, I love the fact that he made his name with bold reworkings of canvases by art’s Old Masters. In an interview that I watched, he talks about his youthful ambition of wanting “to make an incredibly important statement right away” and deciding “I like Old Master paintings, so I’m just going to paint them.”
The other thing that comes through in his interviews (some of which he paints as he is talking) — is his confidence. I think most artists struggle with this. Because you’re being so open and raw — you leave yourself vulnerable. If you watch him with his pastels in the interview I mention above. Each line is so definitive. There’s no regret or second guessing himself that he could have done the stroke better or different.
“The only way for me to feel the difference between every other artist and me is to use every artist to become me,” Condo has said.
His work pays tribute to Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Francis Bacon, but Condo has developed a signature style that explores our panoply of psychological states, ranging from humour and overt sexuality to our darker impulses mired in dark pits of fear and loathing.
Condo has led a fascinating life, finding himself at the intersection of major art movements. He was a studio assistant in Andy Warhol’s factory in the 1970s, befriended fellow New York artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and moved to Paris in the 1980s. He collaborated with unhinged author William S. Burroughs in the 1990s and painted several different cover illustrations for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album in 2010.
“I thought of this as being a realist, in a strange way…I think creating hybrids is a characteristic of American thinking”George Condo
This was the tenth post in my latest challenge to write daily. I’m working on developing my communication skills, and making my writing more personable, and enjoyable for anyone who takes the time to read. If you made it to the end, thank you for spending the time!6