Distanced Figures: George Condo

Quarantine painting, drawing and listening

  • Apr 10, 2020

We visit George Condo at his home studio where he provides an insight into the cathartic experience of art-making during lockdown. Condo’s training in classical music is important to his studio process. In the living room, he has installed a large projector screen where he watches live music recordings through his Marshall amplifier.

Can you describe your current studio set up? I’m quarantined out in the Hamptons and the set up is pretty cool, really.  There’s a small one car garage to paint in and a guest house that’s empty.  Both have been completely turned upside down and look like a tornado went through of flying papers ripped up everywhere, random tubes of new and old paint, brushes that should have been thrown out years ago..it’s quite a mess. But I must say thats how I like it. When did you begin the series of Distanced Figures? I started making the drawings when I got out here in about the second week of March, say the 14th or 15th. So these have been made while in quarantine and represent the feelings of distancing and missing human contact. They are figures who are distanced from one another or, in fact, even distanced from themselves.

George Condo, Distanced Figures 2, 2020 © George Condo

‘Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album’ by John Coltrane

How does the current situation of being quarantined affect your process and your work? It’s not really affecting it as much as I would have thought, but it’s leaving me with little else to do besides talk to my kids, cook, eat, drink wine and just go on walks sometimes. So it’s almost too available. There’s no real urgency like in normal life when you need to get away from people and can disappear into your work. Now it’s the opposite.

Thinking about your concept of 'physiognomical abstraction', how much do you find these new works a depiction of your own current mental state? Physiognomical abstraction was an idea I got from reading about Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. It’s quite involved actually. Basically the thought was this: if Leonardo was a naturalist painter whose quest was to ‘represent’ reality in its truest nature, then were these beings that he captured on paper real or were they antipodal figures trapped or rather ‘nesting’ in his subconscious? Did he spend his time making his anatomical studies in order to hunt them down and locate where they might be, all the while illustrating his journey with his renderings of the human skeleton and internal organs? Was he on an anatomical safari, hunting down the antipodal beings he could imagine in his own mind, perhaps believing that all of us had them, dissecting the brain and other parts of the body searching for those illusive but very real figures, acknowledging they may in fact be hardly visible to the human eye but easily detected by the mind, thus marking the startling difference between the human mind and the human brain? These are just my own observations. You won’t find them in any of the books on Leonardo.

‘Artists should be able to paint up-tempo without missing any strokes, the way ‘Trane can play or Hendrix or Glenn Gould, without missing any notes.’

Drawing and music are both enduring themes in your practice. What is the tempo of these works? These works vary in tempo from very fast paced to quite slow, but in each one.  It’s not that one is fast and one is slow, they activate different speed levels throughout the piece as they are being made.

Is there any specific music that you have been listening to lately? I’ve been listening to all kinds of music while I’m out here, depending on my mood.  The great thing is to have a big record collection. Last night I put on Coltrane’s ‘Both Directions At Once’ album, the one they found recently. I love Wes Montgomery so I’ll paint to him and then to put my self to sleep. I’ll listen to Hopkinson Smith play Kapsberger toccatas on the lute…anything really that strikes me as interesting in the moment is good. In terms of tempo it’s true, I think artists should be able to paint up-tempo without missing any strokes, the way ‘Trane can play or Hendrix or Glenn Gould, without missing any notes. And the same goes for slow. It’s just as hard, just as challenging and just as beautiful. – Explore George Condo’s online exhibition ‘Drawings for Distanced Figures’. From a Distance is an ongoing series of personal videos from our artists and friends. We hope that sharing messages, videos and inspiration from artists’ homes and studios can bring us all closer together as we navigate this new reality. Follow us on Instagram and sign up to our newsletter to receive our ‘Dispatches’ of online exhibitions, original videos, and experiences.