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Blue and White Improvisation

Blue and White Improvisation
signed and dated ‘Condo May 17, 2018’ (upper left)
acrylic and oil on linen, in artist’s frame
216.5 x 270 cm. (85 ¼ x 106 ¼ in.)
Painted in 2018
Skarstedt Gallery, London, UK
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018
Special notice
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Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“When we abstract in imagistic terms from a recognizable form – let’s say a face – we can still recall that face somewhere within this abstraction. But when we represent to the best of our ability the reverse – which is to turn an abstraction back into a recognisable form – that form is of the language of abstraction, as it relates to painting.”
George Condo

Abstraction and figuration – considered by many to be opposing binaries. Yet throughout a career that spans over four decades, American artist George Condo critically examines the many assumptions and contradictions of these labels to create wholly original paintings that defy categorisation. Born in Concord, New Hampshire in 1957, Condo focused his university studies in Art History and Music Theory, twin disciplines that continue to inspire and inform his painterly practice. In 1979, he moved to New York City, where he worked briefly as a screen printer in Andy Warhol’s factory, and was also part of the East Village scene alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. By the mid-1980s, Condo created pictures in a style that the critic Wilfried Dickhoff termed “figurative abstraction,” reflecting the artist’s obsession with the tension between these two ideas, as well as his desire to fluidly investigate, colonize, reconstruct and thereby expand upon available concepts of artistic creation.

In Blue & White Improvisation , the viewer is confronted with a cacophony of truncated eyes, teeth, faces, and limbs. Exhibiting a complex, psychological air that upends traditional portraiture, the work features some of the eclectic figures that Condo invents as caricatures of human emotions and social structures. Towards the centre of the painting stands a character that resembles the infamous waiter-valet Rodrigo, hovering with a bottle of wine; on the upper left-hand corner, one may also see the familiar facial features used to characterise Jean- Louis the butler, who peers ominously over the rest of the painting. Condo has always been fascinated with the inner life of the servant, who is ever-present, and yet often considered to be invisible and anonymous. The flashing eyes that are repeated over and over in this magnificent painting gives the viewer a sinister feeling of always being watched, while the ferocious rows of teeth evoke clenched jaws and the rage lurks behind the servants’ composed façades. The faceless body of a naked woman near the center of the canvas further reinforces the sensation of being on a voyeuristic journey.

Despite the narrative nature of the characters, Blue & White Improvisation nevertheless transcends into the terrain of abstraction. The myriad of fractured features and amalgamation of shapes throughout the painting reference the legacy of Pablo Picasso’s analytic cubism, while the confluence of bold black lines layered over expansive fields of blue and white has an ‘all-over’ effect, a nod to the action paintings of Jackson Pollock. The title Blue & White Improvisation is a reference to musical elements, and indeed the rhythms of the painting expressed through Condo’s lines and shapes allude to how music operates in terms of movement and tempo. Condo, who is an excellent musician, feels particular affinity with the jazz of Miles Davies and John Coltrane, as the spontaneity and improvisation of jazz evokes literary and visual analogies with Surrealism and its ideas of automatic writing and drawing.

Having invented and mastered not just one painterly language but an entire repertoire of references throughout Western art history, George Condo is considered as an important figure of contemporary American painting. In an era dominated by digital art and installations, Condo remains firmly rooted in the practice of painting, creating ambitious and wholly original masterpieces that reveal a unique vision and a multifaceted approach.

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