On October 17, Kanye West took to his Twitter account, as he is wont to do, to reveal to the world the art for his fiercely anticipated new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Well, it was the intended artwork.
“Banned in the USA!!!” the tweet read. “They don’t want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!”
The attached picture, banned by some unspecified authorities, was typical Kanye: provocative, crass, vibrant, distorted, absurd. The surprise came when we realized that the painting was by Old Master devotee George Condo.
The New Yorker‘s Calvin Tomkins profiles Condo in this week’s issue. It’s behind the paywall, so you can read only the abstract here — but if you don’t have a subscription, like, come on. Enough’s enough, pal. Buy one. Anyway, what is online is a small treat: in an audio extra, Tompkins talks to us as Condo’s best-known works crawl daintily across the screen, one begetting another.
Soon, we get to the paintings inspired by Kanye West and his music — a portrait of the rapper, the beheaded Kanye that acted as the artwork for the “Power” single, the”stringent” (Tomkins’ word) ballerina in black tutu holding a glass of red wine, timid.
Tomkins has a voice that’s slicked with rust but still soft and plummy, with nice lip-heavy rounded syllables and a barely audible hummed throat rumble to close a spoken thought. It’s an unexpected and lovely way to discover the story behind the art.
“Kanye West is interested in contemporary art and he sort of fell in love with George’s paintings,” begins the segment on Condo’s interactions with the ‘Ye. “He called up George and asked if he would collaborate with him and he knew Kanye West’s music and he was very responsive to this. For five hours they listened to recordings of the songs in the new album. Kanye left and George, for the next week or so, he began making paintings. The most sensational of the five is an image that shows a naked black man straddled by a strange looking white-skinned female with a long spotted tail. And of course that’s the one Kanye decided to use.”
Now if we could just get Tomkins to explain the album art for “H.A.M.,” the Kanye/Jay-Z track that dropped today. We’re mixed on it.