Recently, I feel like I’ve only been covering the types of artists we automatically think of when we hear the term “contemporary art.” You know, the artists who create outlandish and nontraditional kinds of pieces, like huge public installations. But, there are a lot of modern artists who choose to use a more classic medium. Elizabeth Peyton, a portrait painter, is just one example.
Born in Connecticut in 1965, Peyton attended art school and cultivated her love of painting, and enjoyed making portraits of her close friends. Her work became popular in the 1990s, when there was a movement back to contemporary painting. She has been compared to Andy Warhol in her graphic, colorful style. Like Warhol, she often depicts celebrities and other famous people in her paintings.
As you can probably tell from the two paintings above, Peyton likes to painting a huge range of people. She features modern celebrities, historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte, and even recreates some classic paintings. I think the range of her subject matter is really interesting, especially when combined with her tell-tale style of painting.
In some of her paintings, it’s almost as if she makes the subjects look quite similar, even if they look nothing alike in real life. This is because she has an affinity for the “idealized, feminized, androgynous male,” which you can certainly see in some of her more stylized works.
I also think it’s interesting how much Peyton unabashedly embraces pop culture. I don’t think many artists today would find themselves wanting to immortalize people like Justin Bieber or Eminem, but Peyton completely embraces these figures in a positive light.
Never Say Never, 2013 and Kanye West, 2010
These are two of Peyton’s more famous paintings, probably because they are centered on two mega-celebrities. It’s so interesting to me to see such modern, popular figures depicted using such a classic medium, like painting. Whether or not Peyton genuinely admires these celebrities, or perhaps is just trying to make some sort of social statement, I can’t really tell. Her paintings are always quite zoomed in on people’s faces, and I like the loose brushstrokes she sees. This is particularly evident in the Kanye portrait, in which some areas of the canvas are left blank.
For anyone who says modern art doesn’t take any real artistic talent, I would respond by showing them people like Elizabeth Peyton. She uses painting so delicately to portray a vast array of people– from Kurt Cobain, to Frida Kahlo, to Justin Bieber. Even if you aren’t a fan of modern pop culture, there is no denying that her pieces are compelling and beautiful.