George Condo excels at doing the one thingthat your art teacher always warned you not to: he paints from his imagination. And it’s the grotesquely comic, brightly coloured portraits for which he is best known which cover much of the wall space at this major retrospective of the American artist’s work, which opened in October.
Whoever is being depicted, the same gurning face stares out at you, covered in oddly shaped swellings, with big flappy ears and teeth where they shouldn’t be. The woman in pearls in Alone and Together (2000) has it, as does the man who seems to be growing out of her head, the Screaming Priest (2004) and the trouserless Stockbroker (2002). Even Jesus (2002) has it. Like Picasso before him, Condo is less interested in his subjects’ differing outer appearance than their shared inner turmoil.
Get up close and you’ll see that, for all its cartoonish quality, this is the work of a masterful painter, easily as skilled as the canonical artists whose work is alluded to in Homeless Harlequins (2004), Seated Nude (2005) and others. If Mental States is anything to go by, it’s clear that Condo’s imagination is a strange and wonderful place to be. Go see for yourself. (Words: Rachel Segal Hamilton)
George Condo: Mental States runs until 8 January 2012 at the Hayward Gallery.