Elizabeth Peyton at Regen Projects

For some Elizabeth Peyton is an acquired taste. She has a remarkable skill set, an unapologetic desire for beauty and romance and a general retro sense of genre loyalty. These elements make her paintings and drawings a difficult proposition in a Fine Art landscape of “ism’s” and conceptual practice. The paintings are indeed lush. They have been for the last 15+ years. Her career was etched in stone at a fascinating Projects exhibition at MoMA in the summer of 1997. This same exhibition also cemented Luc Tymans and John Currin into the iconoclastic category of figurative painters in a contemporary setting.

Elizabeth Peyton, Klara, Oil on aluminum veneered panel 2012 14 1/8 x 17 1/8 inches

Peyton fans are sometimes sheepish, admitting to their admiration as a guilty pleasure. Her detractors find the entire paradigm either too easy, too decorative or too empty. My response to the latter is this: making something look easy is a gift. Art will always have a decorative role; even aggressive “ugly” work acts as decor. And as for empty, the late 20th and early 21st centuries are indeed fraught with an ennui that indexes vacuousness so if empty is an accusation, it may also be content. And as for the guilt “suffered” by her fans…must pleasure always be paid for with doubt and self recrimination?

Elizabeth Peyton, Alex (Alex Katz) Winter 2012 Oil on aluminum veneered panel 2012 15 x 12 inches

Peyton’s primary genre is portraiture and the Regen exhibition concentrates solely on that. The paintings are intimate in scale, none larger than 15 x 18 inches. Peyton’s approach is a rare combination between approximation and definition. The torso of a portrait can be alluded to with a few confident and accelerated brushstrokes outlining the shirt while the face mostly garners more attention with layers of oil glazes pulling the countenance into focus and recognition.

The greatest example between this disparate attention between face and figure is a portrait of painter Alex Katz.

Elizabeth Peyton, David Bowie, 2012 Oil on aluminum veneered panel 14 x 11 1/4 inches

David Bowie is all face, captured in a likeness from his most androgynous period of the late 70’s and early eighties. This is where a leitmotif of idolatry and star worship enters the picture and her aesthetic paradigms. This conceptual underpinning thankfully doesn’t overwhelm her art however.

The Regen exhibition is an excellent opportunity to see the work in person. While the paintings reproduce handsomely in all manner of catalogs and monographs, the tactility of seeing the work in person is singular.

Elizabeth Peyton, What Wondrous Thing Do I See...(Lohengrin, Jonas Kaufmann) Oil on veneered panel 2011-2012 9 x 11 inches (seen from the side)

Lastly, there’s a strange artifice of sloppy vs. pristine at play that is all but lost in reproductions. Peyton is painting on aluminum veneered MDF panels. The surface is covered with a thick and gooey white which drips over the edge of the flat surface as if troweled on by a mason. This white is the ground which allows all those glazing layers to luminesce as they do. They become sculptural objects on which the picture plane rests. It takes the work away from the merely illustrative and catapults it further.

-Mario M. Muller, April 23rd, 2012,  Los Angeles, CA

Regen Projects II
9016 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90069

April 5 – May 12, 2012
Gallery Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

also by Mario M. Muller

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