Getting Real

There are two photos taken from behind and far away. One is of Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, the other is of the artist Craig Wadlin—both men she has painted before. This is the Peyton of 1993–97. The love is there, but it's nonthreatening. Until recently, in fact, she seemed capable only of looking at men who were not looking at her, as if eye contact would be too intense.

In another telling shot, Peyton moves closer—though she still hovers just out of harm's way—as she gazes at a group of boys on a London street. You'd have to be an insider to know this, or be told, but this is a portrait of a number of young men who are having their day in the art world—they're all on the rise. Among them is the painter Peter Doig (her first balding subject, I might add), critic-curator Matthew Higgs, Martin McGeown and Andrew Wheatley of London's Cabinet Gallery, and her friend and art dealer Gavin Brown. You can see how she hangs on every moment, how she loves being here, now; but when you compare these faces to the faces she paints, you can see the moment passing. These men aren't just pretty boys; they're mature, they work hard, are not otherworldly or especially decadent, and they are aging. Throughout this exhibition Peyton is showing you a generation coming to power.

Replacing starry-eyed fantasy with a more complex ½ction: Peyton’s Colin de Land (1999), center, at Gavin Brown
Robin Holland
Replacing starry-eyed fantasy with a more complex ½ction: Peyton’s Colin de Land (1999), center, at Gavin Brown

Details

Elizabeth Peyton
Gavin Brown’s enterprise
436 West 15th Street
Through May 1

All this can make her art seem clubbish or like an imitation of Billy Name's Warhol Factory photos. But Peyton simply shows you her world and her process; shows herself edging closer, living life, not just painting it. She's trying to show you that, while she embellishes life, she's not pretending. She has to push her paintings further, but she seems to want to discard and interrupt the girl-fan thing. And while her images may be mediated by a photographic or fictional distance, her love is real, and getting more so.

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