Peyton Place

Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton will be on view at the New Museum on the Bowery in NYC for only one more week, through January 11, 2009, before heading to Minneapolis, London and Maastricht. A decade and a half of the artist’s production is housed on two floors of the museum’s space with Peyton’s most arresting portraits spread around the corners of the exhibition’s spaces and occasionally tucked into a dead end passage. I began with Kurt Cobain and some historical figures like Napoleon before coming to a self portrait, images of Georgia O’Keeffe and some pets. Then there is the head-on, grisaille image of Frida Kahlo which is an almost newspaper-esque reportage rendering of her as the painting were instead a black and white photograph. The rockers, the rulers and the personal friends of the artist all seem to co-exist in the intensity of their piercing gazes or, alternatively, the suspense of their faces when hidden by shocks of their hair. The works are highly personal, close-up views of their protagonists, as if the viewers were sitting beside them in the next chair or in the same intimate space. Often the sitters are involved in quotidien activities such as sketching, reading, sleeping or walking, while others are such maginfied views that we see only the sitters’ faces, their heads angled in the midst of some unknown activity, capturing a moment in time. What I found most arresting about the works was that, perhaps due to their primarily small scale and often ragged edges, they seem as if they are pages torn from popular magazines or picture postcards collected on vacation, or even Polaroids stuck haphazardly inside a book or photo album. Peyton uses glamorous textures and surfaces and intense color to saturate the viewer with her pictures’ characters. The subject itself could alternatively be the character or the painting process itself, and the combination of the two in such intimately scaled works is fascinating.

New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002