George Condo may not be a household name, but his work has been pushed to the forefront of pop-culture with the release on Kanye’s latest album. Most are familiar with the controversial cover of My Dark Twisted Fantasy, which has been banned by Target, and depicts a representation of Kanye positioned against a nude Phoenix. Condo describes this cover as “challenging” Kanye with imagery. Condo goes on to explain his meetings with Kanye as well as the thought process behind the 5 alternate cover. Excerpts from the piece can be read after the jump.
Head with sword
“I really like that idea of a Shakespearian thing,” West told Condo about this painting of a severed head wearing a crown. The piece’s two contrasting styles — “cubism and classicism forged together in a single painting” — dovetail, Condo says, with West’s music, with its “layers of different styles happening simultaneously.” What did Kanye see in the picture that made him like it? “His tragedy was a kind of exile that Kanye imposed upon himself,” Condo says. “He was free from exile by having the cathartic moment in the image. He’s alive in the painting, you know what I mean? In a strange way it’s like, he opened his eyes.”
Condo remembers that West came to his studio between eight and ten times over the course of the summer. The ballerina — a concept that later worked its way into West’s “Runaway” film and performance at the VMAs — came from one of those visits. “We were hanging around one night, and we were listening to that tune ‘Runaway,’” Condo recalls, when his wife, Anna, showed West a a shot of French dancer Sylvie Guillem moving in slow motion. “And somehow Kanye grabbed onto that idea of the ballerina,” Condo explains. “He just said, ‘Hey man, I’d like to have a great ballerina painting.’ I thought of a ballerina toasting. You know, ‘let’s toast to the scumbags.’”
Naked sphinx straddling Kanye
“That’s a good painting,” Condo says matter-of-factly. “She’s a kind of fragment, between a sphinx, a phoenix, a haunting ghost, a harpy. And then Kanye is also in some sort of strange 1970s burned-out back room of a Chicago blues club having a beer — so far away from the real Kanye West that it’s just a scream.” In painting Kanye in such an outrageous situation, Condo says, “I was challenging him with the imagery as well. He said, ‘I’m shocked, but I like it, and I gotta go with my gut feeling.’” This cover’s already been banned by Wal-Mart and Apple’s iTunes Music Store, much to Condo’s disgust. “The superimposition of people’s perceptions on a cartoon is shocking,” Condo scoffs. “What’s happening in their minds should be banned. Not the painting.”