home

zingmagazine

zingmagazine







zingstuff

subscribe



about zing

zingcontact



p.s.1
john connelly
luis macias
orfi
gavin wade
brandon ballengee
elizabeth cohen
thomas rayfiel
reveiws

zingreviews

david hockney

Elizabeth Peyton DAVID HOCKNEY PARIS TERRACE BEDROOM, oil on board

elizabeth peyton; sadie coles hq • london, england

Am I imagining it or are a lot of people around me turning extra pale and thin, redeemed only by a reddening of the cheeks and lips? If so, this vampire chic (which photographer Jeff Wall warned us against some years ago) might well be caused by the current popularity of Elizabeth Peyton’s neat little paintings.

> Not that I’d blame anyone for auditioning for inclusion in her pantheon. After all, “Peytonworld” is better than yours or mine; there you’re either a celebrity or—equally rare and precious—a friend. She’s repeatedly painted, and therefore adorned herself with, only fame and pals and this Epicurean philosophy could soon make her a lifestyle role model. She’s also found an effortless way to revitalize that tried, tested, and yet recently neglected genre, society portraiture. It’s not difficult to imagine her soon inundated like Warhol with requests for likenesses of the great and the good. Like a lot of really big names that emerge, she’s achieved something most up-and-comings could kick themselves for not doing, something so simple it hurts: awarding herself a rewarding project for life that takes her exactly where she wants to go. Not since David Hockney painted LA swimming pools has an artist made such a clear, life-affirmating statement of private desires in their work.

Featuring stars and royalty seems at first a strange game to play; one wonders if Peyton is complicit with notions of divine rights and sun kings. There’s something less Modernist and more Contemporary about such interpretations of the elite. With the old suppressed magics now let out of their boxes, why shouldn’t gods, demigods, and fairy tale princes and princesses re-emerge along with the rest of a rapidly re-mythologizing society?

Still it worries me that, though Peyton’s characters might trace their ancestry all the way back to the sun or may have had special powers sprinkled on them by fairies in their cots, none of them look like they come out to play until long after dusk, nor do they seem to have been eating up their ambrosia.

A doctor of art history whom I consulted on this matter suggested Peyton portrayed a “fin-de-siècle wan dandyism”, but that hasty diagnosis seemed too pat to be true. Anyway, whatever it is that’s causing the ailment in her subjects, it’s contagious and everywhere you look at current openings you’ll see Peyton-esque sunken cheeks and blue-white skins.

Anemia aside, this girl paints with pure panache. She has that rare ability to perform a simple-looking task with an unmistakable trademark, achieving much with apparently limited means. The way her thick grounds are rudely wiped across the base board so that they hang over the edge like paint quiffs, seduces the audience as much as her famously flamboyant palette. That palette, along with its sheen finish makes the paintings highly buy-able. There’s no aspect of her practice which isn’t resolved or carried off in style, and yet nothing is weighed down by its own accomplishment.

The mysterious choice of stars and royalty as subject matter will no doubt entertain theorists and historians for years, but beyond this debate Peyton simply has a natural ability to paint with remarkably rare conviction while leaving a little mystery in our mind, a mystery to which we suspect we have an answer and yet never confidently put into words. This is best demonstrated by a work entitled tokyo (craig) in which an unrecognizable figure is silhouetted against a (hotel room?) window. Here you can see everything Peyton does so well without the usual content question rearing its head. Rendered almost entirely in regal purple, the image seems to have used for photographic reference a ”wrong” exposure that didn’t take back-light into account, thus obscuring the figure who becomes simultaneously an intimate and a stranger.

The enduring puzzle is, however, that several of the portraits on show at Sadie Coles HQ distort the appearance of their subject to bring us repeats of the same pallid, androgynous face. Who could this be, I wonder? Peyton’s blue-eyed fantasy? Of herself perhaps? Or is it the cloned destiny in store for all of us once her international charm offensive is complete?

Paul O’ Kane

London, England

1998


reviews