March 31 - May 26, 2010
Cartoon Abstractions (catalogue)
galerie jerome de noirmont

GEORGE CONDO Sylvester, 2009 Acrylic on linen 203,2 x 203,2 cm

exhibition release

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 image . 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 Art. 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 self-alienating nature.

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 post-war 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 movements”.

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 complex reality.


    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.