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10 Jul, 2009

Doomed youth and dead artists

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Whitechapel, London

Elizabeth Peyton’s work is a parade of wan boys, doomed youth and dead artists. Strung-out and damaged, they live on cigarettes, lipstick and fame. Her paintings have their own air of sickliness, however bright the colour; they are as stylised and thin as her subjects, and as vulnerable and doomed to history, on their scraped-on icings of gesso. The paint slips and scuffs around, approximating a glazed, tender indifference.

Peyton’s portraits of the dead – Delacroix and Frida Kahlo, Sid Vicious, Angus Fairhurst, Susan Sontag and Kurt Cobain – mingle with Liam Gallagher and Jarvis Cocker, the young Princess Elizabeth Windsor and David Hockney. It’s such a drag. There are lots of people I’m too out of the loop to recognise, or maybe it’s how she paints them. If Peyton did paint the unfashionable, it makes you wonder whether anyone would really care about her work.

Peyton is better than her paintings sometimes look, with their winsome art-school ways, pallid cheeks and vampire lips. She’s more direct than the dreadful Karen Kilimnik, to whom she might be compared, though she isn’t Lucian Freud. And Peyton can draw beautifully: you can imagine coming across her sketch of Napoleon in a dim recess in a provincial French museum, and wondering who did it. Her work looks as if it yearns for the Cafe Royal, nights with Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm, for bon mots and morphine, but has had to settle for stars so hip it hurts, so cool it sometimes kills them.

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