George Condo: Ink Drawings at the Skarskedt and Headspace at the Simon Lee Gallery
William S Burroughs, Jean-Michel Basquiat…most of Condo’s contemporaries from the 1980s New York scene have either died or fallen from favour. Not George Condo, who introduced his dysmorphic figure paintings to a new generation with a major show, Mental States, at London’s Hayward Gallery in London two years ago. Remember the outrageous cover for Kanye West’s 2011 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the one where a naked female animorph and West hang out in a seedy club? That was George Condo. His continuing popularity accredits his range of expertise – he studied classical painting in France to complement his highly individual expressionist style. We join Condo for a viewing of his new sister shows in West London.
Ink Drawings is a body of work about destitution. The sense of poverty is emphasised with what Condo refers to as “unartiness”; even the materials are poor, with strips of paper stuck together at the centre instead of traditional canvas. Mutant forms stand or scream in empty space, in a morbid palette of charcoal, blood red and cobalt blue. Picassian Cubism is in play, with multiple planes of vision shown on the same canvas. But Condo captures emotional variety as well as visual depth. All subjects have nakedness in common, be it emotional or physical. Full body drawings like The Discarded Human are starkly nude, but silent, whereas the portrait drawings centre on the open mouths, which are fractured into multiple rows of teeth. These planes, layered like snapshots, give a sinister, kinetic, profoundly modern feel. Opening the exhibition at Skarstedt, Condo states: “These subjects are at the point of explosion…I relate them to homeless people, who don’t really care if you toss them a coin or not. What they really want is to be recognised…seen and heard.”
At the Simon Lee Gallery, works are acutely abstract, recognisable as the human profile but infiltrated with mechanical and urbane elements. Condo calls the collection Headspace because the portraits fill the canvasses to their limits. These works, fuller and more observant, are less of an objectifying stare at the physical grotesquery of the body, and more an entrance into the teeming void of human consciousness. More positive, these paintings feature sparkling human eyes erupting from the blocks of pastel colour. Bright, curvaceous formations leaping from the portraits perhaps describe inspiration or joy. But the manic smiles remain, and, in Laughing Clown, ink runs down the profile like tears. Tears of mirth or tears of laughter? We are left to wonder. We must treat these beings like Condo treats his subjects – scrutinising them, but never attempting to know them.
Ink Drawings is at the Skarstedt gallery from 11th February to 5th April 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.
Headspace is at the Simon Lee Gallery from 11th February to 22nd March 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.