It's fitting that [artist id="1230523"]Kanye West[/artist] chose New York artist George Condo to create the lusty cover for his upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After creating a classics-inspired "moving painting" in collaboration with director/artist Marco Brambilla for the "Power" video — which referenced everything from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes to images of Roman orgies and ancient Egyptian themes — West tapped Condo for the cover art for "Power."
The two images the artist created — one a twisted take on Kanye's face with multiple, gaping mouths and wide-open eyes and the other depicting West's decapitated, crown-wearing head with a sword thrust through the left ear — captured both Condo's signature cubist-inspired style and West's career-long fascination with the nexus of high and popular art.
West clearly wanted to push the envelope even further with the album's cover, as the final Condo image depicts a nude, demonically grimacing West reclining on a blue couch and gripping a green bottle while a naked, armless, winged woman with a polka-dot tail straddles him. Though a spokesperson for West's label could not be reached for comment at press time, the rapper claimed that the image had been censored and he may not be able to use it after all.
"So Nirvana can have a naked human being on they cover but I can't have a PAINTING of a monster with no arms and a polka dot tail and wings," West raged in one tweet on Sunday, referring to the iconic image of a naked baby boy swimming after a dollar bill on the cover of the grunge legend's 1991 major label debut, Nevermind.
A few hours later, he announced, "Yoooo they banned my album cover!!!!! Ima tweet it in a few ... ," adding a short while later, "Banned in the USA!!! They don't want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!" West never revealed who allegedly banned his album art (or how it was censored in the wee hours of a Monday morning), but railed against the action, saying it was a double standard.
According to the Los Angeles Times, an unnamed source familiar with West's discussions with his label, Island Def Jam, said the rapper was "strongly urged" to use a different cover image but that he was told that "if he wanted to do it, the label would stand behind him." The reported concern is whether such mass-market retailers as Best Buy and Walmart might not stock the album with the current artwork.
So who is Condo? The 53-year-old contemporary artist and sculptor is known for dark paintings that owe a huge debt to hero Pablo Picasso's cubist masterpieces, as well as Spanish painter Francisco Goya's grim work on such iconic paintings as "Saturn Devouring His Son" and Andy Warhol's skewed take on pop-culture icons.
Condo has been creating beautifully disturbing images for nearly three decades, specializing in provocative paintings with an often-comical tinge, with pieces in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He burst on the scene in the early 1980s alongside such contemporaries as Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, helping to usher in a new age of painting that mashed up classical sources with a modern, street-art edge.
His style, referred to as "artificial realism," often uses inspiration from Greek mythology and European history, as well as American pop culture, frequently creating bug-eyed, cartoon-like characters with a sinister edge that some critics have referred to as "baroque" and "grotesque."
He has also branched out into more mainstream pop culture lately, creating a line of skateboard decks for Supreme that debuted earlier this year, including one with a twisted take on the Superman character.
In continuing another theme of West's recent appearances, Condo created the artwork for the "Runaway" single, which features a shocked-looking ballerina in a black tutu clutching a glass of wine.
Considering West's constant desire to explore new territory and explode the notions of what passes as hip-hop — from sampling prog-rock icons King Crimson on "Power" to tapping Bon Iver singer Justin Vernon to sing on Fantasy, his fixation on European high fashion and the upcoming debut of his art-house-influenced "Runaway" mini-film — whether the Condo piece ultimately ends up being the cover of the album, West has clearly found a brother-in-arms whose outsider artistic vision matches his own lyrical and musical one.
What do you think of West and Condo's collaboration? Let us know in the comments!
Don't miss the premiere of Kanye West's "Runaway" film at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, October 23, on MTV and BET.