George Condo

by Matthew Bedard

"Well let’s just say this: I love pleasure! Painting is like sex; you just go at it and can never get enough."
There’s the charming George Condo, bopping from collector to collector, from Lady Gaga to Leo DiCaprio to Jessica Chastain, from ‘psychological cubism’ to somber self-portraiture, from his first show in Los Angeles in nearly 20 years at the newly planted Sprüth Magers post to the reception held hereafter at the Sunset Tower.

“Self Portraits Facing Cancer,” black and white and jilting and pained, marks the gallery’s left side wall, and pretty explicitly expresses the troubling physical condition of the artist—who rose to fame in the East Village art scene of the 1980s following a stint in Andy Warhol’s Factory as a screen-printer—as well as the obvious talent that’s made him a fixture at a remarkable score of museums and in the personal collections of the stars murmured above who’ve come out to toast him tonight. Other works within the show include a triptych corrupting—beautifully—the spirit of Francisco de Goya’s “Maria”—a detail dictated by Condo of which you’ll find on this magazine’s cover— which allude to the artist’s early career including a decade-long residency in Paris spent studying the Old Masters. Across what remains of the gallery, works perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more jovial, at least in palate, that see eyeballs bulge and limbs swap place, which, were they to greet you every morning in your foyer (which would likely be palatial, because you’d be rich), would make you very happy. A departure, it could be said, from the contorted, silly, sometimes sinister portraiture, instantly attributable, that capstones Condo’s fame. Entrance to the Void, standing through mid-June, leaves one with the sense that the artist has not only entered a void of sorts— personally and geographically (here in the unshakable Tinseltown abyss)—but that George Condo continues to bend things inward and out, even if these things are indefinable, with no corners to grab hold, shrouded in nothingness. Here, a brief interview with the painter.

George-Condo,-Orange-and-Green-Diagonal-Portrait,-2016“Orange and Green Diagonal Portrait” (2016).
Acrylic and oil pigment stick on canvas. 84 x 82 inches. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles. 

This is the Good Times issue. How do you feel your relationship to pleasure or good times has evolved over time? What is your association to pleasure in terms of painting?

Well let’s just say this: I love pleasure! Painting is like sex; you just go at it and can never get enough. It has evolved over time by the fact that as I am aging and going through so many changes in life, that pleasure becomes almost that much more precious.

Your show title suggests, perhaps: the unknown, vastness, and binaries. Which particular piece do you feel in the show speaks most pointedly to the idea of “nothingness,” or is there a uniform approach to “the void” in the works?

The diagonal portraits speak to this matter of nothingness and to a certain degree, a possible structure of “nothingness” as well as the void. Seeing those two terms as tangible realities with technical structures is the entrance...almost like being able to connect the lines in a constellation of stars. The painting titled “Entrance to the Void” is somewhat ironic in that it is an entrance, but to a psychological puzzle with all the pieces spread out in space with no actual potential for restructure. Simply, a mass of emotional vortices located in my mind.

The press material around the show suggests you’ve “condensed your disparate styles of previous artistic periods” into individual works that “broach the void between figuration and abstraction.” Do you agree with this statement now that the show is up and running?

I do agree with this but remember in a press release one has to simplify to a certain extent... It’s not easy to describe. The bridge from figuration to abstraction may only be about a centimeter long! However, there are three paintings in the show that are called “Impressions of Goya” based on the portrait “The Countess del Carpio, Marquesa de la Solana” located at the Louvre in Paris and here, there is a definite bridge back in time to this previous artistic period that may be quite a bit longer than a centimeter!

Is there an exit from this meditation on range, meaning, or meaninglessness?

No there is not. It’s part of the human psyche and our perception of reality that can’t be ignored, so one must never try and exit, only go deeper into it.

We are also featuring a number of musicians in this particular issue. Some might describe painting as composition, similar to music. Would you agree?

I have been listening to John Coltrane’s last studio album Expression mostly while I worked on the paintings, particularly “To Be,” “Ogunde,” and “Expression.” The way he digs into his saxophone and just tears it up is the expression I have been after with these just unleash absolute freedom of style, line, color, and power. I love all of his music and consider him to be one of the greatest of all time, but I must say his last recordings, all of them, are truly inspirational to my work.

I recently heard a very accomplished photographer describe what he loves of L.A. to be its “void.” Is there perhaps a unique void in Los Angeles that substantiates the show’s staging here at Sprüth Magers’ new post? How so?

The void in my work is my mind. All the pieces were created in New York, so I wouldn’t have known that. Yet I do see traces of yesterday and tomorrow everywhere I go.

As mentioned, the show speaks to an “entrance,” yet no exit.

There is no exit...there is only space and time.

George-Condo,-Self-Portraits-Facing-Cancer-1,-2015“Self Portraits Facing Cancer 1” (2015). Acrylic, oil, and pigment stick on canvas, in two parts. 98 X 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles.