‘Live Forever’ at the Walker

Elizabeth Peyton peers into the vortex of celebrity culture.

Princess Kurt peering into a mysterious wheel/sun. PHOTO COURTESY WALKER ART CENTER

Ashley Goetz

Princess Kurt peering into a mysterious wheel/sun. PHOTO COURTESY WALKER ART CENTER

Check out the video WHAT: âÄúElizabeth Peyton: Live ForeverâÄù WHERE: Walker Art Center, Target Gallery TICKETS: Runs through June 14 David Bowie, the original sweet-faced music man, sang about the prettyboy, that dreamboat with delicate cheekbones and starry eyes. So did Lou Reed. And American artist Elizabeth Peyton paints them in multitudes, so prolifically that the Walker Art Center devoted an exhibit to her boyish muses. Peyton, who was born in Connecticut in 1965 to artistic parents, was prone to tearing images from books and magazines, âÄúcollecting peopleâÄù like Queen Elizabeth I and Napoleon in order to practice her craft. After college, she held her debut at the notorious Chelsea Hotel in New York City, all the way up in room 828. Curious patrons had to get the key from the desk and wander up the halls once frequented by Edie Sedgwick and Sid Vicious to see PeytonâÄôs work. Now Peyton displays her paintings in galleries from the Museum of Modern Art to the Target Gallery at the Walker. The exhibit, âÄúLive Forever,âÄù shines the light on PeytonâÄôs work from the last 15 years. A small room is completely devoted to one of PeytonâÄôs favorite subjects, the late, sad-eyed grunge great Kurt Cobain. One painting, âÄúPrincess Kurt,âÄù taken from a photo of Cobain in a tiara and gown, is an integral part of the WalkerâÄôs own art collection. âÄúPeyton is interested in men with a feminine aspect,âÄù said Walker coordinating curator Betsy Carpenter. âÄúWith âÄòPrincess KurtâÄô she is looking for the feminine within Cobain, a creative elaboration.âÄù PeytonâÄôs work may have its viewers pondering the concept of celebrity and the artistâÄôs supposed obsession with it âÄî Peyton devotes canvases to John F. Kennedy Jr. and his mother Jackie, the young Al Gore, the StrokesâÄô singer Julian Casablancas and the Gallagher brothers of Oasis. She paints homages to her friends like fashion designer Marc Jacobs, capturing them all in lurid color and thick brushstrokes. Their mouths are a loud lipsticky red and the palette is lush and occasionally muddy, especially in PeytonâÄôs post-September 2001 work. PeytonâÄôs work, when ingested as a whole, sheds new light on our view of celebrity culture. She takes her subjectsâÄô fame and toys with it. The paintings are playful and beautiful, but theyâÄôre also intimate, like the examination of Jackie and JFK, Jr., where Jackie gently rearranges her sonâÄôs hair. âÄúThere is an intensity to her sincerity,âÄù said Carpenter. âÄúThe personal, biographical, painterly and conceptual all come together.âÄù Her depictions of ex-lover Tony Just have been cited as a womanâÄôs approach to the work of other artists, such as Matisse and his paintings of prostitutes in hotels. For example, Peyton paints Just asleep in a hotel bed, turning the tables on the âÄúmale gaze,âÄù the theory that a female subject is almost always seen from the standpoint of a male. In PeytonâÄôs female gaze, men often have makeup applied to their features. PeytonâÄôs work, when taken as a whole, is a cohesive collection. Her early work, those portraits of sneering Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten turn into homages to Georgia OâÄôKeefe and Frida Kahlo, which in turn become an angelic rendering of Babyshambles dirtball Pete Doherty. Peyton paints couples and sisters casually in a series from 2006; the use of light and texture morph into her current work. A love letter to her current girlfriend Pati is a gorgeous rendering of scarlet poppies before an image of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe. The paintings are relatively small, and the juxtaposition between them and the towering white walls of the Walker increases their intensity. One of the last paintings in the exhibit, and possibly the most famous one, is of first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha at the Democratic Convention. The pattern of ObamaâÄôs Thakoon dress in its magenta and plum, combined with the knowing look in her eyes and the sweetness of SashaâÄôs head in her motherâÄôs lap, is the loveliest, most hopeful way to end an exhibit so completely intriguing.