In 2010, famous American rapper Kanye West released his new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with an album cover so grotesque and disturbing that it was subsequently banned by iTunes. This depicted a morbid, frightful and aggressive caricature of the artist with a female phoenix across his lap, which is now blurred as the cover. The artwork was commissioned by West for the New York-based George Condo, perhaps one of the most influential painters of the last few decades. Known for his carnivalesque, shocking and distorted take on classical portraiture in his iconic style that he calls ‘Artificial Realism’, he mixes references from pop culture, Disney graffiti, Surrealism to famous historical painters such as Velazquez, Picasso and Francis Bacon into an aesthetic that is distinctly Condo’s own.

Born in 1957 in New Hampshire, Condo attended the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, studying music theory and art history. Moving to Boston, his career started with music- he joined the punk band called The Girls through which he met famous Abstract Painter Mark Dagley and the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who eventually inspired the young Condo to move to New York and pursue an artistic path. Here, he was instantly engulfed in the crazy, vibrant New York scene – he worked for Andy Warhol’s factory on the artist’s Myths series, and started showing his work for the first time in East Village galleries in the early 1980s.  It was also during these years that he coined Artificial Realism, a genre to describe his hybrid practice merging Old Master’s portraiture with American Pop elements. In Condo’s own words:

“it’s the realistic representation of that which is artificial. And in order to get to that realistic representation, you need a kind of traditional background in painting. And that’s what’s genius about Picasso. We all know he mastered painting as a teenager, and that from there on it was a mission of deconstruction.”

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