When he emerged in the East Village art scene in the early 1980s, Condo coined the term Artificial Realism, “the realistic representation of that which is artificial”, to describe his hybridization of traditional European Old Master painting with a sensibility informed by American pop. Along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Condo was instrumental in the international revival of painting from the 1980s onward. Condo’s work has been influential to many artists of his generation and the generation that followed him, including Nigel Cooke, Sean Landers, John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, and Glenn Brown.
The first public exhibitions of his work took place in New York City at various East Village galleries from 1981 to 1983. During this period he worked in Andy Warhol’s factory, primarily in the silkscreen production studio applying diamond dust to Warhol’s Myths series. He moved briefly to Los Angeles and had his first solo exhibition there in 1983 at Ulrike Kantor Gallery. After returning to New York later that year he made his first trip to Europe. Condo moved to Cologne, Germany, where he met and worked with several artists from the Mulheimer Freiheit group, including Walter Dahn and Jiri Georg Dokoupil. His first solo exhibition in Europe was in 1984 at Monika Sprüth Gallery.
While still in Europe Condo met and began working with American art dealer Barbara Gladstone, and in 1984 he had a simultaneous two-gallery exhibition in New York at Pat Hearn and Barbara Gladstone Galleries. Already close friends with Basquiat by this time, Condo met Keith Haring on returning to New York, and the two remained lifelong friends until Haring’s death from AIDS in 1990. Several of Condo’s most significant works from this period, such as Dancing to Miles (1985), which was included in the 1987 Whitney Biennial and is now in the collection of the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, were painted in Haring’s East Village studio.
Between 1985 and 1995 Condo lived and worked mostly in hotels and rented studios between Paris and New York, while continuing to exhibit extensively in the United States and Europe. In Paris, Haring introduced Condo to the American writer and artist Brion Gysin, who in turn later introduced him to William S. Burroughs. Condo and Burroughs collaborated on numerous paintings and sculptures between 1988 and 1996. Selected works from their collaborations were exhibited in 1997 at Pat Hearn Gallery, New York. Condo and Burroughs also worked together on a collection of writings and etchings titled Ghost of Chance, which was published by the Whitney Museum in 1991.
While in Paris, Condo also met and befriended philosopher and semiotician Félix Guattari, best known for his collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, when Condo was working in a studio in the apartment building where Guattari resided. Guattari wrote extensively on Condo’s work, including an introductory text and interview in the exhibition catalogue for Condo’s 1990 solo exhibition at Galerie Daniel Templon. Of Condo’s paintings Guattari wrote:
“There is then a very specific ‘Condo effect’ which separates you from all the painters you seem to reinterpret. You sacrifice everything to this effect, particularly pictorial structure, which you systematically destroy, thus removing a protective guardrail, a frame of reference which might reassure the viewer, who is denied access to a stable set of meanings.” (Felix Guattari, 1990)
Throughout his career as an artist, Condo’s work has served as an influence and inspiration to contemporary writers including Burroughs, Guattari, Demosthenes Davvetas, Donald Kuspit, Wilfried Dickhoff, and Salman Rushdie, whose 2001 novel Fury includes a chapter inspired by Condo’s 1994 oil painting The Psychoanalytic Puppeteer Losing His Mind. American fiction writer David Means also used a Condo painting, The Fallen Butler (2010), as inspiration for his short story “The Butler’s Lament”, which appears in the catalogue for the exhibition Mental States, a mid-career survey of the artist’s paintings and sculptures organized by the Hayward Gallery, London, and the New Museum, New York, in 2011. Allen Ginsberg, a close friend and frequent visitor to Condo’s Paris studio, where he photographed the artist on several occasions, asked Condo to paint his portrait for the cover of his Selected Poems: 1947-1995, published in 1996 by HarperCollins.
Condo’s paintings, like The Orgy (2004), Superman (2005), Batman and Bunny (2005), Maja Desnuda (2005), Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen (2006), and God (2007), place archetypal human figures in a world of humorous, grotesque painting style that the artist refers to as Psychological Cubism.