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Elizabeth Peyton

American Figurative painter

Elizabeth Peyton Photo
Movement: Realism

Born: 1965 - Danbury, Connecticut, United States

"I think the final circle in being an artist is connecting, making some conversation to the world you're in."

Summary of Elizabeth Peyton

While other girls were busy tearing pages from magazines to paste their pop idols, sports heroes, and movie star crushes on their bedroom walls, Elizabeth Peyton was painting them instead. When the 1980s and 90s brought about an upsurge in celebrity culture infiltrating mainstream media with incessant images of the latest hot fashion designers, supermodels, and society doyennes, Peyton was painting them too. She reinvented portraiture, pulling it from its dusty closet where it had been relegated to a precious past, and modernized it for the MTV age. In an era where figurative art was no longer the rave, she re-identified its importance as a documentation of one's life and the people within it. She very quickly became a celebrity artist herself, creating a new portraiture that was contemporarily stylized and idealized her circle of friends alongside the objects of her obsession, which equally included glamorous artists, New York scene-sters, literary characters, or European monarchy. This approach to putting the people of her life on canvas, both those that she intimately knew who would sit for her, and those who she admired from afar in photographs, was often critiqued for its populist popularity. Yet it can't be denied that Peyton's portraits and the lifestyles they depict, were an early forebear to today's social media impetus to share everything about the people in our lives as if we were all individuals worthy of celebrity status. Like Andy Warhol and Nan Goldin before her, Peyton joins the cache of artists who express their own lives as their greatest works of art.

Key Ideas

Peyton's portraits, distinct in their female gaze, explore contemporary concepts of identity, sexuality, and beauty using similar techniques and styles that have become de rigueur in modern fashion illustration. Men and women become elongated and androgynous, blushed with feminine hues, evolving and reviving the Romanticism of 18th and 19th century British portraiture.
Peyton enjoys the act of painting a person via a formal portrait sitting when she can, because she describes the act of it as being more about intimate time spent together than doing the normal things two people might consider when socializing. Creating this pocket of time, where she merely studies the subject and then presents him or her, tends to strip away all ephemeral meaning or extraneous visual information. Celebrities become ordinary people and ordinary people become extraordinary.
Peyton came of age in a media-saturated world where celebrities remain aloof strangers yet project faux intimacy with their fans through glimpses into their private lives. This illusion of familiarity fascinates Peyton and she enjoys offering it up in paintings, whether they be famous people she's never met in person and depicts from photographs, or very real people from her life who grant her actual sittings.
Some critics struggle with the relevance of Peyton's work in today's age, most specifically with her unapologetic fascination with physical beauty. Yet, a quick look at any random Instagram feed will validate the existence of our current global obsession with beauty as its own unique currency.
Elizabeth Peyton Photo

Elizabeth Peyton was born and raised in Danbury, Connecticut. She learned to draw and paint with her left hand, having been born with just forefinger and thumb on her right (with which she holds her work). From an early age, Peyton was interested in celebrities as subject matter, starting with the tennis and ice-skating personalities of the 1970s. Speaking of how she selects her subjects, she has explained: "I don't really choose. It just sort of has to happen. I start listening to something or I'm seeing somebody a lot or seeing their art. And then I just really want to make a picture of them."

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