For the past several years, Elizabeth Peyton has focused her artistic activity on the genre of portraiture. Her subjects are often historical figures such as Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth, or Ludwig II of Bavaria. The majority of her portraits, however–and those for which she has gained the most recognition–pay homage to icons from popular culture such as Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, and Kurt Cobain, the late lead singer of the rock band Nirvana, who took his life in spring 1994. These small-scale paintings and drawings, which are often based on publicity photographs or music videos, are rendered as private, idiosyncratic images that resonate with a sense of love-struck teen angst and nostalgic mourning.
Peyton’s drawings first gained recognition with an exhibition at the infamous Chelsea Hotel in New York, an establishment that has long served as a home to artists and celebrities and sometimes been the site of notorious deaths. Viewing Peyton’s show at the hotel involved obtaining a key to Room 828 from the concierge and entering a small room with a single bed where 21 small drawings in found frames decorated the walls.
Peyton’s work demonstrates the artist’s deep involvement with youth culture and the pop icons who have become immortalized as figureheads of a generation.