Representational pictures are the artist's body, abstractions are pictures of the artist's mind
Reworking outmoded pictorial techniques and styles in oil and varnish, he has fashioned a polyphonic terrain of cross-reference that ranges from the Renaissance to the Baroque, from Tex Avery cartoons to Cubism and Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop. Rather than being burdened by history, he seems liberated by it
-R. Rugoff quoted in George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat., New York, New Museum, 2011, p. 11.
George Condo is an artist whose work is deeply engaged with the traditions of European and American painting and has been widely recognized as the missing link that bridges the figurative tradition begun by Rembrandt, Picasso and Bacon to his contemporaries Glenn Brown, Dana Schutz, John Currin and others. (H. Cotter, "A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes," New York Times, January 27 2011). In canvases that articulate the dichotomy of abstraction and figuration, Condo takes a leap by pushing beyond the theosophical rigidity of human portraiture, daring to introduce comedy and macabre that creates an altogether fresh and invigorating hybrid. As the artist stated in his 2011 interview with Laura Hoptman, "Representational pictures are the artist's mind, abstractions are pictures of the artist's mind." Where other painters have been overshadowed by the established artistic tradition, Condo's paintings appear to have transcended from the critical determinism. Fusing together Renaissance-period iconography with carnival-esque twists of composition and color, The Butler, quintessentially exemplifies Condo's pictorial innovation.
In The Butler, Condo delivers a salient example of private mythology to cultural commentary. Set on a grand scale, the assembled figures emerging from an expressionist synthesis of color and form. The Butler belongs to the artist's celebrated Figure Compositions series of paintings which he produced between 2009-2010. There is indeed a satirical, almost derogatory edge to Condo's depiction of a diverse cast of human figures. Playful and wry, the male figures are rendered in the artist's signatory style. Their bright-colored blue tuxedo, cheesy bowties and gaudy goatee actually border on caricature. Echoing the fetishistic nature of pop culture, the painterly dismemberment of the female figures into the constituent parts of their nude bodies, make-up and anatomy is both humorous and reflective of a new graphic style and painterly means of construction. Assemblages of scrawled, smeared, splashed and daubed marks combined with precise, caustic and often amusing illustrative motifs, this polyphonic cast of female and male figures emerge from the surface of the canvas as if born from the sensual energy of Condo's spontaneous brushwork. Indeed, The Butler takes us on a journey that reveals a fantastic cast of characters; figures that range from the classical to the surreal as they simultaneously come to the foreground and retreat into a sumptuously colored background. The form of each figure yields to its partner on the left and right, overlapping and standing so close that they almost merge into an orgy of voluptuous form. There is a uniform and consistent sense of fluidity running throughout the entire surface and ensured that the painting as a whole developed in a homogenous and almost organic way.
With today's audience acceptance to large-scale installations and 'performance pieces' as popular mediums of contemporary art, George Condo returns to us to the time-honored tradition of figurative painting. While many artists have struggled to truly champion the medium since the declaration of the 'death of painting', Condo's vast oeuvre, spanning almost twenty-five years, boldly revitalizes the essence of figuration and of painting as a medium within contemporary art. Beyond mere appropriation of art history, Condo unites the recognizable signifiers of Western art traditions into his own pictorial language, creating a unique figurative vocabulary.
George Condo's world is peopled by mysterious creatures, fanciful characters and more-or-less failed actors - decrepit clowns and waiters, maitre d's and maidens, monsters and maenads. Everything looks broken and dysfunctional, but upon closer examination, follows a precise set of rules. The figures often appear in the centre of the canvas, and as if yearning to step into the limelight, they peer at us cautiously, waiting for a cue. Behind them, the background is as motionless as a stage curtain. Condo's painting is theatre: sometimes opera, sometimes vaudeville, more often a strange combination of Stanislavski method and commedia dell'arte. As in an Actors Studio on drugs, in Condo's paintings the characters break down and collapse, revealing their fears and desires. Life in Condo's work reveals itself to be both compromised and seductive, depraved and innocent, sophisticated and corrupt: it never dwindles down to a one-dimensional vision, but rather becomes an accumulation of opposing forces.' (M. Gioni, 'Physiognomic Fragments for the Promotion of Human Understanding and Montrous Love', in George Condo The Lost Civilization, exh. cat., Paris, Muse Maillol, 2009, p. 57).