Self-consciously disarming the viewer's expectations, Smiling Girl With Ponytail has the complex mixture of emotion and art-historical interpretation that characterises George Condo's rich, painterly creations. Over the past three decades, in canvases that articulate this kind of potent and mixed emotional charge, Condo has explored the outer suburbs of acceptability while making pictures that, for all of their outrageous humour and contemporary resonance, are deeply immersed in memories of European and American traditions of paintings. 'My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art, where one second you might feel the background has the shading and tonalities you would see in a Rembrandt portrait, but the subject is completely different and painted like some low-culture, transgressive mutation of a comic strip' (G. Condo, quoted in J. Belcove, 'George Condo interview', Financial Times, 21 April 2013).
Smiling Girl With Ponytail is a particularly ebullient example of what the artist calls 'psychological cubism', the regularised features of a cartoon-like female head have been twisted horizontally onto the frontal picture plane, creating a surreal, provocative image that tests the boundaries of portraiture. Fusing graphic figuration with unabashed abstraction, Condo's work observes that the transcendent aspirations of 'high' culture are inevitably interwoven with our more clownish natures and desires. Condo has compared himself to a playwright creating multi-dimensional characters. 'What's possible with painting that's not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time, and you can capture what I call a psychological cubism' (G. Condo, quoted in J. Belcove, 'George Condo interview', Financial Times, 21 April 2013).