The Artist Project: George Condo

I’m George Condo, painter. I’ve been looking at Monet’s work quite a lot recently, and I came to the Met, and suddenly I got to this painting and I thought, “This is a really wild piece.” I mean, this is some of the ugliest combinations of colors I’ve ever seen in my life: these polar opposite tones, like purple and yellow, those oranges and green mixed in. The surface is extremely active. I don’t know if he painted on top of something, because strokes are moving left and right that don’t correspond with the strokes that actually make up the content of the painting. He’s got that dry surface to his canvases. Things diffuse, they sort of disintegrate. There’s a lot of spots and stains and random little bits and pieces of paint that seem to have just fallen off his brush and he left it there. There’s no optical experience as radical as the one that takes place in Monet. Up close it’s going to look like one thing and you step and it’s going to look like another. And what surprised me with this piece was that you get back ten feet and it still looked the same. You get back about fifteen feet, the palette is still very rugged, disjointed. And so what I did was I went down to the end of the hall and looked at The Card Players of Cézanne, and when you turn around and look at the Monet, it’s the most stunning transformation. Something that is so sort of horrible turns into this exquisite daydream. You see an aerial view with the top of the leaves and the shadows reflecting on the walkway. If you look at the scale of the actual flowers, you could imagine that the path itself must be only about six or seven feet. And the canvas is about six feet. It’s actually a beautiful transcription of this particular moment in space and time. I paint from memory, for the most part. I don’t like to work from life; I never work from photography. And I enhance my memory by just imagining. That painting feels like a vivid recollection, but we know his practice was to be there painting it. His eyesight was failing: potentially he could feel like time is running out. Unless he captures these scenes of nature as he had orchestrated it there in the garden now, he’s never going to be able to do them again. I often don’t step back from my paintings until I’m done with them. I like to be right up into the painting, imagining how this thing is going to look when you get back from it. And I think of Monet when I think of painting that way. To be able to work with those nuances of random things up close that crystalize into a precise image is what I think is the most genius thing about this painting. It’s an absolute masterpiece. It’s like you can’t see that the earth is round unless you’re on a spaceship and this is what I’m getting out of this Monet. The further away you get, the closer you are.

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