Fifteen years on, Elizabeth Peyton continues to do the same thing, which has been a good strategy, considering that her new pocket-size paintings at Gavin Brown are sold out at $6,000 a square inch.
With Peyton, all the sad young men sit transfixed, the women are wistful and history is dished out in dry, bite-sized pieces. Figures like Diaghilev and Bob Dylan, depicted in her new work, continue to draw her attention, as does a young Alice Neel, asleep in 1931. There’s always a sense that Elizabeth’s paintings are also asleep, until something leaps out.
The first little masterpiece here is a portrait of John Giorno, who remains as vigorous as the day he slept for Warhol’s camera. Peyton surrounds him with books and cuts off his fingertips at the edge of the canvas, a manifestation of her occasionally irritating arbitrariness, but Giorno’s integrity shines through.
Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Maurizio Cattelan and Matthew Barney attended Peyton’s opening last Friday, and in Barney, the subject of three of her new works, Peyton has found her ideal model, one whose stony glumness in real life can only make her treatment of him appear whimsical by comparison.
Peyton, in a tour de force, summons Raskolnikov from Barney’s cramped, obsessive soul. He appears to be either in or out of prison, passive, lost, yet resigned to his condition. Peyton draws a certain nobility put of Barney’s visage. That is her saving grace, discovering unnamable grace in small things, quietly and without bravado. To ask her to do anything different, however one would wish to see her try it, would be like squeezing blood from a stone.
Elizabeth Peyton, Apr. 19-May 17, 2008, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, 620 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y. 10014
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).