There is an explosion of paint at Hauser & Wirth in the latest exhibition by George Condo. The energies of emergence and encounter surge within his paintings, creating events overflowing in chaotic emotional turmoil.
Condo clearly revels in the complexity of these works – JE
Condo’s mid-career retrospective was titled ‘Mental States’ as his drawings and paintings depict states of mind reflecting the range of emotions that simultaneously occur within us, often buried deep within our collective subconscious, revealing themselves through fragmented figurative forms.
In this endeavour, each brushstroke is an event, invented characters recur, blur and blend, art historical references abound, layered paint is built up and blocked out, and Condo’s line swirls and twirls across the depths of his surfaces, bringing both clarity and confusion. Condo’s line creates images on emotions by surfing with his line on waves of coloured emotions. In works like ‘A Day in the Park’ and ‘The Day They All Got Out’, we see gestural abstract brushstrokes with lines creating form and appropriating colour to create emotion and event.
Condo clearly revels in the complexity of these works saying, ‘I like to make it complicated for myself in terms of colours and tonality … it makes it more interesting to find my way through it all, to give it a shape, a form, a balance.’ In this way the chaos he sees within the world and that he reflects and represents becomes a driving force or energy for creation and he suggests we view his works as ‘harmonic resolutions’ to radical, divisive elements in society.
Talk of harmony brings us to his love of music and the reflection of tat love in his work. He describes the process of drawing and the freedom it brings in terms of ‘rhythm’ and ‘tempo’ and likens his process to the use of improvisation in jazz music where a core order enables spontaneity and improvisation. Making art in this way enables Condo to resolve tensions, both personal and societal. conflict resolution via painting and drawing. Paintings including2021) display this dialectical paradigm – his harsh lines and colours provide a structure that allows the figurative forms to roam free, as if the lockdown had unleashed a mad rush to escape from shelter.
Eyes are also of great significance here. These are images exploring the act or art of looking, viewing, seeing. The viewer is observed, the viewer is voyeur, the voyeur with the work is viewed. Perspective matters and is materialised to shape encounters. Windows to the soul are opened and what we see is often not pretty – chaotic, crude, traumatic, energetic. The unfound truth that lies beneath our surface once masks are removed and we can see within. This search is mirrored by deconstructive process of painting whereby initial figures and forms are partially covered and erased by new layers of paint allowing only fragments of the original forms to survive.
Condo has been a defining figure of contemporary American painting, combining the vigorous expression of Guston with the fragmented narratives of Kitaj to create, as he has put it, ‘composites of various psychological states painted in different ways.’ His journey to works like these, which channel the painterly modes of American and European art history, is currently being mapped at the Long Museum in Shanghai where 150 works form a retrospective entitled ‘The Picture Gallery’.
The new drawings and paintings on show here are essentially portraits of invented characters that, in works such as ‘Shadows and Light’, are, Condo says, ‘interacting in the shadows’ like light shining through gaps between trees in the forest. This sense of light shining through gaps and cracks and rips and tears is particularly apparent in ‘The Day I Stopped Drinking’ where an eye or a mouth are glimpsed through the thicket of an explosive combination of colour and line found at the heart of this composition.
These lockdown works suggest that confinement has unleashed in us a crazed rush to escape from shelter. By capturing the complexities of our minds and emotions in these complex times and putting this on view for our reflection, Condo seeks to reveal the humanity inherent within our fragmented psyches, the ideal of our unfound truth.
George Condo. Ideals of the Unfound Truth, Hauser & Wirth London, 13 October – 23 December 2021