Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist>
Of all the figurative painters working today, few if any can match George Condo’s CV for artistic heritage and bragging rights. He worked for Andy Warhol in the ‘Factory’, jammed with and was a friend to Basquiat and now designs albums for Kanye West and handbags for Kim Kardashian.
Born in Concord, New Hampshire, USA in 1957 Condo’s work spans nearly four decades. He studied Art History and Music at Lowell in Massachusetts before moving to Boston where he worked in a screen-printing shop. He joined a band in Boston called ‘The Girls’, through which he met Basquiat in 1979 while performing on the same bill in his band ‘Gray’. Long story short, Basquiat persuaded Condo to move to NY in 1980 and the rest is history. Condo’s previous screen-printing experience got him the gig in the ‘Factory’ working for Andy Warhol. He worked there for nine months and reportedly only met Warhol once. He was also involved with ‘diamond dusting’ pictures as well as silkscreen-printing. Andy Warhol subsequently bought several paintings from one of Condo’s first NY shows in the early 80’s.
Both Warhol and Basquiat where strong artistic influences on Condo’s work at this time. However, over above these two as he emerged as a figurative painter, was and still is, Picasso. A key difference is that unlike Picasso who painted figurative images of real people and things, Condo’s images all emerge from his imagination. In an interview with the Guardian in 2013 he is quoted as saying ‘I describe what I do as Psychological Cubism. Picasso paints the violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states; four of them can occur simultaneously. Like glimpsing a bus with one passenger howling over a joke they’re hearing down the phone, someone else asleep, someone else crying – I’ll put them all in one face”.
He’s also influenced by old master painters such as Rembrandt and Degas. The colour field and abstract painters such as deKooning and Rothko and will add in elements and colours from these artist’s work into his.
It was Condo who painted Kanye West’s 2013 Christmas gift to Kim – a Hermes Birkin bag featuring three nude women and an angry green monster. Not quite what the couple were expecting, it was once rumoured to have been destroyed. When inevitably it was posted on Instagram, followers were not amused, ‘holy shit balls that’s ugly ‘ said one!
Condo moved to Cologne and then Paris where he spent 10 years between 1985 and 1995 remaining entirely focused on imaginary characters until the 2000’s. In 2006 he painted a portrait of the Queen, who has a long neck, gerbil like cheeks and a Crown and he also did the five interchangeable covers for Kanye West’s 2010 album (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), one of which appears to depict Kanye naked and straddled by a winged naked female. Prior to this, his imaginary characters would have multiple pairs of eyes, teeth and all sorts of other ‘additions’. Ralph Rugoff, the curator of the 2011 Hayward Gallery Condo retrospective show wrote that Condo’s portraits amounted to an ‘anatomical orgy’.
The Art Market’s response to Condo’s work exploded during the Spring/ Summer sales of 2017 to the same period in 2018. Condo had become perhaps the most coveted artist on the secondary market in those 12 months, thanks to both the tiny quantity of his output and a belief that buying his work was a surefire investment that could or should pay off. Over the 2017/18 period Condo, set and broke his own record at auction three times.