Elizabeth Peyton

[Painter]

“Describing is no end or beginning.”
Feelings that Elizabeth Peyton associates with painting:
Vulnerability
Honesty
Fear
Relaxation

Elizabeth Peyton, born in 1965, is an American painter whose intimate portraits of her friends and heroes respond to an era in which our peers and icons seamlessly coexist. Prince Ludwig II, Kurt Cobain, and an eight-year-old Eminem are given the same special treatment in her work as politicians, friends, and partners. This makes it easy to see whom she admires, but I’ve always wondered why. The work goes beyond fandom and approaches something closer to devotion. I was curious about what she believes in.

I was a little nervous about interviewing Peyton because, ever since seeing her work in a small MoMA show on figurative painting in 1997, alongside that of Luc Tuymans and John Currin, I have counted her (and Tuymans) as a hero of my own—and you know what they say about meeting your heroes.

Since that show, Peyton’s artist books, paintings, and drawings have never failed to move me. Her use of paint is juicy and there is physical energy and raw emotion evident in her panels. To me, her pictures carry the seductive impulse that compels you to rip an image out of a magazine. They have the sincerity of a love song and the spirit of punk. I admire and try to emulate the courage she has to wade right into her obsessions and attractions and turn them into art.

We both live in the West Village in New York, and decided to do the interview at a nearby café. When Peyton arrived she was smiling and holding a new album by the Danish band Vår. We spoke about talented Danes, then got down to the business at hand.

—Leanne Shapton

*

THE BELIEVER: Along the lines of the photogenic thing, you’ve talked about the idea of “becoming” in a couple of interviews—about loving that moment when someone becomes who they are. Correct me if I’m putting words in your mouth.

ELIZABETH PEYTON: Yeah, it’s one thing that I’m fascinated by.

BLVR: And do you think that is the moment at which the image they project of themselves is beautiful?

EP: People aren’t so conscious like that, not so able to say, “Oh, I’m going to amplify this now.” I think it’s a product of, like, all things in the universe, a product of energy, in a way. That’s the energy inside of them; you can just feel it, I think. When I was younger I think that I might have thought this is happening at a certain age, to people around me. I didn’t really understand there’s all kinds of moments as your life goes on, that you come into things and evolve again and change.

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Leanne Shapton has published five books: Toronto, Was She Pretty?, Important Artifacts, The Native Trees of Canada, and Swimming Studies. She is the co-founder of J&L Books, and a former art director of the New York Times’s Op-Ed page.

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