George Condo’s Force Field is a banquet of color, form and melodic arrangement. Across the monumental two-meter canvas, Condo has drawn and painted a dizzying assemblage of characters, which collide and fragment in a densely-packed ensemble. Executed in acrylic on linen, with well-defined charcoal lines and soft pastel elements, the work presents a cornucopia of rich texture and eye-catching tone, dominated by vivid greens and opalescent passages of blue, lavender and graphite.
Snatches of recognizable human features—eyes and teeth, buttocks and breasts, bow-ties, the poised limbs and smiling face of an elegant nude—are both spotlighted and subsumed in a captivating chaos. Bursts of red fracture faces and bodies; three-dimensional form mingles with abstracted shape. Continuing the themes of the “expanded canvases” that Condo first made in the 1980s, Force Field’s content is governed by a compositional rather than narrative logic. As a painter, Condo adopts a similar approach to a classical composer, counterpoising flurries of busy activity with more quiet, open sections; with its density of ideas, overlapping themes and vibrant contrasts, Force Field is a symphony of a painting.
Taken as a whole, Force Field’s composition feels almost like a puzzle: the moment one picks out a form, it slips back into the excitement of the whole. It is as if multiple drawings have been overlaid together on the same page. The effect is far from claustrophobic. The work’s exuberant forms and vital colors, presided over by balmy shades of sky-blue and leaf-green, conjure an expansive sense of light and space. In its joyful palette as well as in its fragmented structure, Force Field evokes Picasso’s work of the 1930s, in which he finessed Cubism to luscious, prismatic heights. Condo’s rounded shapes, detached limbs and profiled heads, shot through with hues of lilac and eau-de-nil, find clear parallels in works like Picasso’s The Sculptor (1931). Such echoes are no accident: throughout his career, Condo has been immersed in an intelligent conversation with the history of painting, and Picasso has remained a key touchstone and influence. “I describe what I do,” said Condo in 2014, “as psychological cubism. Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states” (G. Condo, quoted in S. Jeffries, “George Condo: ‘I was delirious. Nearly died’”, The Guardian, February 10, 2014). Force Field, with its disjointed faces and bodies held together in a fabric of orchestral complexity and poise, is a triumph of his multifaceted approach.
“Condo’s facility as a painter,” asserts Ralph Rugoff, “continually lures our attention away from the image to take in the choreography of marks across the picture plane: the loose grace of the brushstrokes, their varied touch and texture, the interplay of unexpected color relationship” (R. Rugoff, George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat. Hayward Gallery, London, 2011, p. 11). Standing on this boundary between the figurative and the abstract, Force Field takes on a hybrid state that has a been central to Condo’s oeuvre since the major works Diaries of Milan (1984) and Dancing to Miles (1985), both in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Its dynamism recalls the gestural abstraction of Jackson Pollock, while its bodies and grins share a sense of the grotesque with Willem de Kooning’s seminal Woman series. But Condo’s expressive use of structure and improvisation, the rhyme and rule-bending of his forms and tones, also draws upon his relationship with music. At the University of Massachusetts, he studied Music Theory along with Art History. “You are still” said the theorist Félix Guattari to Condo, “a musician at heart. With you the polyphony of lines, forms and colors belong to a temporal dimension rather than one of spatial coordination. Your paintings are like non-arpeggio chords which unleash their harmonies and their melodic potential” (F. Guattari, “Introduction (Paris 1990)”, in George Condo: The Lost Civilization, exh. cat. Musée Maillol, Paris, 2009, p. 18).