George Condo 'Cartoon abstractions'
March 31 – May 26, 2010
Where cartoons meet abstraction...
For his third solo exhibition at the gallery which has been representing him for ten years
now, George Condo has created a brand-new group of paintings inspired by cartoon
characters from the 1950s and 1960s. This new series marks a turning point in George
Condo’s work although it still carries on seamlessly his research into painting, which lies
somewhere between realism and abstraction.
His exhibition at the gallery in 2001 illustrated the foundations of his creative approach,
which is that of a “physiognomical abstraction”, producing works that lie somewhere between
figuration and abstraction by means of effects involving the distortion of the initial image1 . In
Memories of Manet And Velazquez, in 2004, he highlighted his specific talent for reinterpreting
the painting techniques of the great Masters of the History of Art2. Today George Condo is
drawing inspiration from new icons, which in their own time were the symbols both of a world
that was being rebuilt and of a rapidly-expanding American nation: cartoons.
Inspired mainly by Tex Avery, Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes characters - some of them
now forgotten –George Condo shows here the original outlines of these characters which
are used as the central starting point for his painting, extending the black outlines which
sketch out their contours in order to produce an abstract composition which will cover the
remainder of the canvas… Fragmentary, subjective portrayals of the character drawn from the
artist’s imagination mingle with the layers of paint, repeating themselves very obviously or, on
the contrary, appearing implicitly beneath coloured marks, in a pictorial improvisation based
upon a highly spontaneous, imaginative use of the paint. Each canvas has its own chromatic
palette, drawn directly from the colours associated with the character shown.
George Condo is a big jazz fan and here he applies the creative principle which is so
crucial to that genre of music, which is to start out from a precise musical motif and then to start
improvising on it. In the same way, Condo starts out by depicting the character authentically, in
a way which is true to the original, before improvising on the subject and giving free rein to his
imagination in an apparently confused pictorial approach, which is actually a mixture of personal
reinterpretation of the subject and work on the material.
This pictorial technique is reminiscent of the colourful and purely pictorial experimentations of
post-war “animation” films, such as those made by Norman McLaren, who used to work directly
on the film by scratching or painting it, or used to draw the optical soundtrack straight onto his
films, giving us totally abstract “animated” works. Indeed, in these new works, Condo gives
himself the greatest freedom in the application of the paint and in the work on the canvas, all that
counts here is the depiction of the composition around the character.
These Cartoon Abstractions, made in 2009 and 2010, illustrate a new development of the
artist’s desire to establish a chronicle of American imagery, whether it comes from television,
cartoons, the cinema or colourful packaging such as sweet wrappers…
In his Televised Silkscreens series in 1997, George Condo uses a silkscreen principle to pick up
on images from television, most of them from entertainment shows or 1960s American soap
operas, which he hijacks and “reconfigures into unlikely hallucinogenic scenarios of mechanical reproduction”. By taking these images out of their original context, he is showing their selfalienating
In 2003, the artist creates a number of large canvases in which he faithfully reproduces the
American candies and sweet wrappers we all know, such as Chiclets chewing gums or Hershey’s
chocolate bars, which packaging was designed several decades ago and has hardly changed
since. Like Warhol and the Pop Art masters, he then underlines the importance of the
iconography of these consumer products, which are symbols of a mythical American imagery
which has made a large contribution to the universalisation of American culture since the postwar
period, and which has survived to this very day in its original authenticity.
“In the late fifties and early sixties, the art of abstract expressionism was running
parallel to animation; these paintings (the Cartoon Abstractions) capture the spirit of both
By looking back today at the mythical era when the American cultural identity was becoming
established, those years of boundless artistic effervescence in the fifties and sixties when forms
of artistic expression as different as the animation film and abstract expressionism could live
side-by-side, George Condo is once again mixing up extremely different styles to offer us a
highly contemporary body of work, using a great deal of improvisation and spontaneity in the
interpretation of pictorial motifs.
He is placing himself here in the tradition of his predecessor Arshile Gorky, whose remarkable
biomorphic creation was inspired both by a surrealistic interpretation which caricatures the body
and its movements, and also by some of the anthropomorphic shapes and outlines used in the
animated cartoons of the time.
By juxtaposing today formal realism and pure abstract creation on a single canvas, the
Cartoon Abstractions reflect Condo’s personal interpretation of the paradox of our own
contemporary reality, with its own perception which is both authentic and artificial, based on
genuine images that are now part of our collective unconscious…
Here, the artist is diverting in his own way the principle of fragmentation, which is implicit in
the use of abstraction, to produce a constructed vision of the various facets of a character;
cartoons characters are no more than the starting point for a free, personal interpretation of this
To mark this exhibition the gallery will publish a catalogue in the idea of an authentic
cartoon book, including full-page colour reproductions of all the works exhibited as well as a
bilingual French and English text written by Eric Troncy.
It will be available from March 30th on, at the gallery and on the website, and also in bookshops.