What bothers me about Peyton's work--whose show runs until June 14 at the Walker Art Center--is that the flash of her celebrity subjects encourages the public to bask primarily in the pieces' most superficial characteristics.She's made it all too easy for viewers to dismiss the work itself as vain, or self-absorbed, simply by its association with celebrity.
Artist Ruben Nusz reflects on the very different sorts of inspiration and poetry gleaned from the human face by two artists, Elizabeth Peyton and Melba Price, each of whom has a new exhibition of painted portraiture on view. Mellon Acquisition Endowment, 2001 [Ben Brunnemer, Peytons assistant from 20002004] Elizabeth Peyton, [i]Live to Ride (E. Partial and promised gift of David Teiger in honor of Chrissie Iles [Elizabeth Peyton self-portrait] GIVEN THE LOCAL ART-HYPE surrounding the Walker Art Center's Elizabeth Peyton exhibition, Melba Price couldn't have picked a worse time to show off her new body of work.Elizabeth Peyton, [i]Michelle and Sasha Obama Listening to Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention August, 2008.[/i] 2008 Oil on board, 14-1/4 x 11-1/4 in. Like Peyton, Price paints relatively small portraits of hipsters using a slightly washed out yet luminous color palette.Peyton's precursor, Andy Warhol, likewise reveled in fame and avidly pursued those in the public eye--perhaps the fascination stems from a universal desire to be admired, looked at, and loved.None of us can deny these attractions in moderation, yet Warhol critiqued the art establishment by exploiting his personal fame, itself, as fodder for art--he lived it daily, wallowed in it, never broke character. In fact, when you first look through her "pictures of people" as she calls them, she comes off more like a pock-faced teenager enamored with her rock-star idols (there's an entire room in this show devoted to Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain) than a worthy successor to Warhol.Yet despite the ostensible content of her paintings and her admitted admiration for the celebrities she depicts, if you look closely at her work it's apparent that Peyton's true aim lies beyond stargazing.
Instead, she exploits the media's undying infatuation with celebrity and the public's insatiable appetite for fame to serve her own ends-and these ends lie in the subtle realms of moving radiant pigments around on a rectangular, two-dimensional surface.
It's as if she's saying that in 200 years most of these names won't matter anyway; they'll amalgamate into the historical record, amounting to little more than occasionally mentioned anecdotes, colorful footnotes of past lives lived.
________________________________________________________ Price's process, her indistinct edges and puddles of color, echo her anonymous sitters' vulnerability.
She culls the photos she uses as source material for her tender portraits, not from friends, but from anonymous internet postings and stock photography websites. The unassuming depictions reveal much-about her painstaking process, for example and, more importantly, about the textures of human emotion. Peyton's renderings devour the individual sensations of her sitters, leaving behind only luminous color; Price's subjects strive, in vain, to mask their emotions behind a photographic layer of youthful cool, only to have their vulnerabilities exposed by Price's brush, their insecurities and passions on view for the entire world to see (or at least those visiting the show).
Take Price's image a young girl with an ultramarine hooded coat sits in front of a sky blue background, wearing her yellow bangs like a coat of armor. Price casts her as a timorous, modern-day Joan of Arc, anxious but intrepid as she sets out into the unknown territory of adulthood.
In essence, she capitalizes on the notoriety of Oasis' Liam Gallagher or design mogul Marc Jacobs to maneuver the general public into talking about and looking at paintings.