7 February–21 April 2007, Simon Lee, London
On their long running spoof quiz show Shooting Stars, Reeves and Mortimer used a simple trick for soiling celebrity perfection. After applying a swift, linear swipe of a scalpel to the photograph of a ubiquitous celebrity, they would rejoin the split image, overlapping the separate halves so that beauty’s all-important symmetrical balance was grotesquely spiked. Such Surrealist, William Burroughs-inspired ‘cut up’ surgery was devilishly effective—anodyne pop princesses were revealed as repugnant, snarling, barking fascists, their carefully sculpted noses running aground on their silicon-filled plump lips. Of course, the whole thing was put over with flip, cartoon lightness, so as not to expose the grain of deep self-loathing coursing through Shooting Stars.
George Condo doesn’t shoot any stars in his solo show at Simon Lee’s gallery, but his new suite of paintings and sculptures presents similarly deceptive, humorously reconstituted matter. Matthew Collings once amusingly described Condo’s style as ‘free-flowing improvised Beatnik free-associational nutty Picasso-quoting and Arshile Gorky-quoting and Bugs Bunny-quoting expressionist painting’ and it still holds true—Condo’s work still looks like late Picasso remixed by Tex Avery. Unashamedly revealing his scatological thoughts, Condo has produced a morphing frieze of cartoonesque figures whose howling, screaming hysterical faces grace the walls and plinths of the gallery. Breeding, as a cursory acquaintance with the staff of any West End London gallery will tell you, is everything, and here Baron Condo has conjured up a menagerie of distorted, garbled, monstrous beasts—Baywatch crossed with the inhabitants of Dr Moureau’s island.
The eyes and mouth are the thing with Condo. Other artists produce similarly hybrid monsters—most obviously Paul McCarthy and the Chapmans (all three have worked together on exquisite corpse paintings), however none of them possesses Condo’s capacity to conjure up such penetrating hallucinatory visions in which the gaze and howl are so haunting. In Condo’s work, the eyes and mouth are always feral and savage, as if his ‘models’ are rendered at the moment of being impaled. For instance, ‘Tan Nude’ presents the nightmarish come hither of a lascivious zombie—a bare breasted form fixes the viewer with Britney Spears’ dead-eyed stare and a silent, howling wide-mouthed gape.
‘Tan Nude’s’ combination of a visage moaning for man and elongated, deformed limbs aching with ersatz desire are replicated in paintings such as ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘The Cave Woman’. In these and other works Condo’s figures appear possessed with a very contemporary pathological condition—primal desires unsatisfied by the pleasures of commercially proffered catatonic excitement.
George’s singular style (Jack Kerouac’s notion of the ‘unspeakable vision of the individual’ is very apt for Condo) has more recently found expression in a series of sculptures, several of which are shown in the basement space. ‘Uncle Joe’ is a small, 18 carat gold head of another howling grotesque. Alluring and repulsive, it’s a little, snarling bald-headed, jug-eared, clown-nosed malevolent demon that resembles the mutant merging of Leatherface with Paul Daniels—a suitable, magic metamorphosis for our dark times.
John Beagles is an artist living in Glasgow