How Elizabeth Peyton Helps Artists Live Forever

One might expect that for an artist, the task of creating a portrait of another artist would be an extremely daunting one; for Elizabeth Peyton though, this task has driven her career. In her skilled hands, portraits of artists are pure, reverent tributes that demonstrate an ability to translate human character into two-dimensional art. “Making art is making something live forever,” Peyton told Interview Magazine in 2008, on the occasion of her massive New Museum exhibition “Live Forever.” “Human beings especially—we can't hold on to them in any way.” In her works, iconic creatives—from Kurt Cobain to Marc Jacobs to Robert Mapplethorpe—who have impacted entire generations, are distilled to line and brushstroke, and often, as is the case in many of her prints, shades of grey.

In the eminent company of Chuck Close, Mel Bochner, Cecily Brown, and a score of other major contemporary artists, Peyton frequents the print studio at Two Palms, where she creates new etchings and aquatints, more often than not portraying other artists. These works, created over the past two decades, figure prominently in Two Palms’ Art Basel presentation in the Edition sector, where, since 1993, an international selection of 15 top print galleries shows each year.

With notable outliers—including a stoney-eyed Eminem, a boyish Marc Jacobs, and scenes from Germanic mythology—the gallery shows several of Peyton’s portrayals of peers, comrades, and inspirations, namely Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Pierre Huyghe, Matthew Barney, Alex Katz, and Nate Lowman. The portrayals are stoic and and poignant; pared down to essential form and distinguishing features. The studly Mapplethorpe who figures in RM (2007), an emblematic work, demonstrates the ease through which Peyton achieves bold, painterly handling through aquatint. Bold passages of grey move in every direction, in a fervor of locks of hair, cheekbones, a shirt collar, yet they harmonize to build a pensive visage, around careful, piercing eyes. Facility with line becomes especially evident in her etchings, which range from Hockney, who is tightly knit together with hatched lines, to Lowman and Barney, who are loosely rendered in smooth, free-flowing marks that reflect restraint and a discerning eye for the essential. Peyton reminds us that even the most revered of artists are mere mortals, despite the fact that through art, they will live forever.

Visit Two Palms at Art Basel 2014, Edition, Booth Q14, June 19th–22nd.

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