George Condo, ‘French Maid Variation’, 2005, Phillips

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From the Catalogue:
Celebrated for his highly stylized and explorative oeuvre, George Condo’s body of work is comprised of an amalgamation of paintings, sculptures and drawings that showcase his ability to create deeply complex artificial realities. Since the 1980s, Condo has pioneered a distinctly individual approach towards the human figure by embracing the traditional form of portrait painting, whilst rejecting its most formal and academic principles. The artist skilfully dissects his sitter by transforming the everyday human subject into disparate threatening psychological states, surrendering themselves to the painter’s visual interpretation. The present work emits both shock and delight; Condo’s unique pictorial inventions continue to surprise and, at times, horrify, suspending the viewer in a state of awe.

Having first worked within Andy Warhol’s Factory as a writer and subsequently as a silk screener, Condo befriended prominent artists of the day, namely Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, though resolutely determined that he would not follow the post-Pop style. The artist’s earliest experimentations bare the hallmarks of the incredible effusion that the artist would develop throughout his practise. Most prominent in Condo’s works since 2000 is his increasingly troubling variation on conventional genres such as the portrait. Within his portraits, the artist presents an incredible selection of familiar subjects – from Madonnas and Clowns to cartoons and Playboy bunnies – all of which had previously existed only on the periphery of his consciousness. Reoccurring figures manifest throughout Condo’s portraiture, such as the artist's imaginary butler Jean Louis, alongside his accompanying host of relatives and acquaintances.

The present work demonstrates the artist’s preoccupation with the female figure. Executed in the early twenty-first century, the portrait exemplifies Condo’s incomparable talent of turning the everyday figure into a mutation derived from his innermost imagination. Consistently painting whilst travelling throughout Europe, Condo develops his subjects from imaginary figures that manifested themselves in his mind during his travels.

Painted in 2005, French Maid Variation typifies the artist’s portraits of this period. The motif of the French maid appears recurrently within the artist’s figurative work; having portrayed the service woman in several compositions, each time Condo varies the contorted pose, metamorphosing new grotesque facial structures. Within the present composition, the maid’s eye bulges out of the socket to directly meet the gaze of the viewer. Her entire body structure is nonsensical, from the snapping disfigured teeth to the contorted arm that emphasises the two-dimensionality of the canvas’ surface. A composite of various psychological states painted in opposing ways, the present portrait reflects the madness of everyday life.

The artist’s imaginative and varied visual artistic language pays tribute to an amalgamation of canonical influences– from the eloquence of the Old Masters to the dynamism of Picasso’s Cubism. Throughout his oeuvre, Condo pays homage to Picasso’s work and in the 1980s coined the term ‘psychological cubism’ and ‘artificial realism’ to eloquently summarise his approach. Drawing upon the language of Modernist abstraction, Condo combines the vocabulary of the past with an innovative painterly edge which oscillates between abstraction and figuration. The mastery of Condo’s painterly technique, his strong characterisation of the figures set against a timeless backdrop, creates an effect that is both stylistically elegant and disturbing. The artist’s vision, embodied by the present work, uniquely and imaginatively re-contextualizes the canon of art history.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated 'Condo '05' upper left; further signed, titled and dated 'Condo '05 "French Maid Variation"' on the reverse

Brussels, Xavier Hufkens, George Condo: Existential Portraits, 26 January - 4 March 2006, p. 37 (illustrated)

Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
Private Collection, Belgium

About George Condo

George Condo’s work is populated by a cast of characters whose bulging eyes, bulbous cheeks, proliferating limbs, and hideous over- and under-bites set them apart as a singular species. Drawing on vastly diverse painting practices—like Pablo Picasso, Diego Velázquez, Henri Matisse, and Cy Twombly—Condo absorbs a vast range of art-historical sources, yet, at the same, creates a pictorial language characteristically his own, one that investigates the macabre, the carnivalesque, and the abject. He calls his surrealistic style “psychological cubism”, exploiting “our own imperfections—the private, off-moments or unseen aspects of humanity—that often give way to some of painting’s most beautiful moments.” Even Condo’s most abstract works, like Internal Space (2005) with its impenetrable geometric scaffolding of forms radiating from the painting’s center, explore the furthest extremes of the human psyche.

American, b. 1957, Concord, New Hampshire, based in New York, New York