George Condo is an American artist well-known for the contemporary artworks he created that often show metaphorical subjects, fractured images, and aggressive pictures. His artwork is reminiscent of legends like Willem de Kooning and Pablo Picasso – converging different art histories into one unique and distinct style.
Condo referred to his work as “psychological Cubism” and includes this surrealistic style in every painting, drawing, print, and sculptures he creates.
Among his most famous works are portraits that show round cheeks and noses, bulging eyes, and excessive under- and over-bites to showcase humanity’s deepest psyches and imperfections. He is currently living and working in New York.
George Condo Career
Today, George Condo is seen as one of the most influential artists of America. He has been living and working as an artist for more than three decades. His work is mostly a hybrid of the Old Masters of European art fused with American pop culture such as cartoons, comics, and even Playboy magazine.
It was also during his rise as an artist that he coined and spread the term “Artificial Realism” or “the realistic representation of what is artificial.” He used this term to describe his approach to art. Although fan enthusiasts can clearly see the influence of Pablo Picasso on Condo’s work, the latter’s subjects are often fictional.
Condo’s first exhibit was from 1981 to 1983. His works were displayed in several East Village exhibits in New York City. He also worked in Andy Warhol’s factory where he applied diamond dust to the Myths series.
In 1983, he was able to have his first solo exhibit in Los Angeles at the Ulrike Kantor Gallery. He subsequently moved back to New York later that year.
He then moved to Cologne, Germany, where he was able to meet several local artists from the Mulheimer Freiheit group and ended up working with them. They are Jiri Georg Dokoupil and Walter Dahn. Condo’s first exhibit in Europe happened in 1984 at the Monika Spruth Gallery.
From 1985 to 1995, Condo created new artwork in rented art studios and hotel rooms between Paris and New York. Meanwhile, he continued exhibiting his work extensively in both Europe and the United States.
Several of Condo’s work from this period became his most important and most influential works such as “Dancing to Miles” (1985).
Although Condo has been working as an artist for a few decades now, he remained loyal to his Artificial Realism style.
- George Condo’s technique consisted of working up the surface with oil paint, alternating each color with a different one. He also uses semi-transparent and transparent oil glazes as well as varnish. It was a technique that he had learned in his art-history course in college. Most of his paintings were also oil on canvas or linen.
- Condo is also well known for his Picasso-like portraits where fictional characters are given extreme physical features such as bulbous cheeks and noses and eyes that bulged. His color schemes varied, but most often used vivid and bold colors especially with his portraits.
- Most of Condo’s work revolved around modern art movements Cubism and Impressionism – although he focused more on Cubism and had a few post-Impressionistic scenic paintings. While Condo’s style was very distinctively his own, many of the ideas and the techniques were greatly influenced by the Old Masters of Europe. But instead of borrowing their forms, he understood their language and created something new; putting the styles where they are more unlikely to be seen.
- Condo is well-known for his pop-culture theme. As said, his style was a mixture of the form of Old Masters of Europe, but he often created them with a combination of American popular culture. He often used fictional characters and gave them macabre and carnivalesque looks in the hopes of creating an artwork that exploits human’s most private and off-moments that people don’t let anyone see.
- The paintings, drawings, and sculptures of Condo were made to echo our own imperfections. A lot of his works are designed to explore the deepest depths of the human psyche.
- His portraits and drawings all had a cartoon or comic book features, often with ugly over- and under-bites and extreme facial features. However, his other paintings were all made with geometric shapes, planes, and lines with solid colors and rough brush strokes.
- One of his later works with Kanye West is based around the singer’s songs where he created paintings with aggressive imageries, Shakespearean tales, and even religious figures and ballerinas.
- Each painting has a somewhat different meaning, but most of George Condo’s work revolved around the human mind and emotions. However, some of his collaboration had specific meaning – for example, his work with Kanye West. He created several paintings for Kanye West’s album and one of his portraits of the artist meant “power” while a baroque era-style priest was meant to mirror “paranoia.”
- Unlike Picasso who worked and painted his closest relatives and friends, Condo’s works featured fictional beings such as mythical creatures and made-up people.
- The women in his work were often nude, created with voluptuous figures and disfigured faces. George Condo is perhaps the only artist who has ever painted imaginary subjects. He has also drawn a figure he often saw in his delirious state when he acquired a serious disease in 2013.
- Throughout his career, Condo has faced several controversies because of his paintings, usually because of his imagery that was deemed inappropriate by some people or that it was seen as an insult. However, his distinct art style and technique was still loved as he challenged the norm with even the most modern art movement.
George Condo was born in Concord, New Hampshire on December 10, 1957. He studied music theory and art history when he attended the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Condo had a fair share of interest in both music and art, and throughout his life, also studied music composition and playing the guitar. However, he began pursuing his dream more: drawing and painting.
Two years after attending the university, he went to Boston, moved there and worked at a silk screen printer. He also joined a punk and photo synth band named The Girls. He was with a fellow painter who specialized in abstract painting. He was also what you call an avant-garde musician, and the founder of Cul de Sac.
Together, they had their very first and only song entitled “Jeffrey I Hear You”/”Elephant Man” that was released in 1979.
The same year, Condo met another artist – Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the people that helped convince Condo of pursuing his career in painting. After meeting Basquiat, he moved to New York and started his career as a painter and artist.
During his exhibit in Paris during the mid-1980s, Condo met Armenian actress Anna Achdian, a rising star in the continent. They got together, fell in love, and married in 1989. They left Paris behind to live a life in New York City where they had two daughters. Unfortunately, they filed for divorce in 2013.
Meanwhile, it was also the same year when Condo would be facing a near-death experience. The artist was visiting Berlin when he was diagnosed with triple Pneumonia right after contracting Legionnaire’s disease which is often fatal.
He was able to get to New York City where he collapsed and spent some time in the hospital where he became delirious and lost 15 pounds.
During his delirious state, he hallucinated a certain character that paved its way to his paintings. “The Laughing Cavalier” in 2013 would end up to be the brainchild of a delirious Condo.
George Condo created many different paintings, drawings, and sculptures until now and many of them have become the artworks that defined Condo as an artist. However, here are some of Condo’s notable works over the decades.
Dancing to Miles (1985)
Dancing to Miles was an oil on canvas and was one of Condo’s early works. It had the telltale signs of a Cubism painting with the analytic spaces and the geometrical planes and lines. However, it’s not the technique that brought it to the world’s knowledge but its frenzied and chaotic look.
With a color scheme of mostly black and brown, it looks as if the entire scene was decaying. The artwork referenced Miles David in the title, who performed free-form jazz and the painting coincided with the chaotic structure of the notes. With that, dancing to Miles Davis has become a symbol of difficulty.
The Fallen Butler (2009)
The Fallen Butler is another Cubist oil and pastel in linen that was part of the artist’s exhibit named “George Condo: Mental States.” As with most of his work, this butler has extreme facial features, surrounded by a chaotic splatter of spaces and planes and vivid colors.
This also became an inspiration for some writers, including David Means, an American fiction writer. It inspired the short story he wrote entitled “The Butler’s Lament” – another piece which was also shown in a catalog for the exhibit.
Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen (2006)
Perhaps the most controversial of Condo’s artworks, the Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen. It was shown in a well-known British museum in the past where it gathered mixed reactions with a multitude of backlash from the loyal subjects of the queen.
They thought that the Queen looked like a toothless cabbage patch doll with a long neck, and indeed it was according to Condo himself. When asked what he was trying to portray in this painting, he answered that it was the nightmare picture of herself that she saw in her head — an improvisation of her own nightmare, thus the painting’s title.
Kanye West Album Covers (2010)
With a total of five paintings, George Condo’s work with Kanye West catapulted the artist into mainstream fame, where even people who weren’t art enthusiasts but fans of West got to know him and his work.
One of his artworks for the singer was a Cubism portrait of West that was meant to show power. With all the different shapes and dimensions, the whole portrait looked like an African Mask and indeed an iconic work, showcasing his distinct style.
Another painting with the collaboration with Kanye West was a naked Sphinx straddling the singer. However, it was yet another controversial piece that was banned by Walmart and Apple’s iTunes, much to Condo’s dismay.
The imagery may be a little aggressive, showcasing a grinning West with a bottle of beer in hand while this naked mythical creature straddles him. However, Condo believes that it the painting shouldn’t be banned but the way people think about such creations.
Another iconic painting from the album was that of a ballerina. This was actually a request from West when Condo’s then-wife Anna, showed him a clip of Sylvie Guillem, a French dancer. The singer got stuck on the idea of a ballerina, with a glass of wine in hand, toasting, as if to say “let’s toast to the scumbags.”
The Cloudmaker (1984)
One of the earliest works by Condo, this was a scenic view that was more Impressionistic than his standard Cubism work. However, far different from traditional Impressionism painting, his had a touch of modern times.
He added huge letters spelling his name, and each letter had light bulbs that were common for theaters and shows, with smoke coming out from the letters, forming the clouds.
Most of George Condo’s work alluded to several legends such as Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Goya. He also said in an interview once that he sees Andy Warhol as someone who influenced him as an artist. Today, his influence can be seen in a variety of contemporary art, made by artists such as Nigel Cooke, Glenn Brown, Sean Landers, Lisa Yuskavage, and John Currin.
George Condo Resources
Cotter, Holland. (2011, January 27) A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/arts/design/28condo.html
Zara, Janelle. (2016, May 6) From Kanye West to Goya: George Condo on the art of influence. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/george-condo-entrance-to-the-void/index.html
Majendie, Paul. (2007, January 19) Queen Elizabeth portrayed as Cabbage Patch doll. Retrieved from https://reuters.com/article/amp/idUSL2368365820061023
Artist George Condo Explains His Five Covers for Kanye West’s Twisted Fate. Retrieved from https://www.vulture.com/2010/11/kanye_george_condo/slideshow/3/
Dancing to Miles. Retrieved from https://www.thebroad.org/art/george-condo/dancing-miles
George Condo: Painting Reconfigured
George Condo: Mental States