Born in Connecticut, US, in 1965, Elizabeth Peyton began drawing and painting people at a young age. Between 1984 and 1987, she studied fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she developed her personal style and widened her skills in printmaking. Best known for portraying close friends and everyday scenes, she also often chooses historical personae and contemporary culture icons as the subjects of her vivid, flashy works.
Peyton’s style, mainly figurative, is characterized by the joint power of simplicity and intensity: her “celebrity” portraits (of David Bowie, David Hockney, princes Harry and William, and many more) have the same immediate, intimate and informal aura that characterizes her close friend portrait. Her signature traits are her richly modulated surfaces, the vibrant quality of her brushstrokes, and an “unfinished” sense of the color palette. Peyton draws much inspiration from the creative work of historical figures like John Singer Sargent, and she has expressed that she feels part of a lineage of artists and writers like Flaubert, Balzac, Delacroix, Giorgione, Georgia O’Keeffe, who look at subjects and portray them with an economy of expression to unite passive sensation with emotion. Peyton works from life and photography, generally using painting, drawing, or printmaking and often acting on progressive degrees of removal from her material. In her interview with Frieze magazine, Peyton expressed that choosing to paint from another artist’s work allows her to explore “harder-to-reach things inside herself” because the composition is already decided. In another manner of reworking, Peyton will revisit an image she has previously used, cropping it in different dimensions and thus altering the amount of context given. This context manipulation is significant to Peyton because of its effect on the feelings of proximity and intimacy.
Since 1998, following a commission from Parkett magazine, Peyton has created a broad range of prints, including monotypes, lithographs, and woodcuts. Experimenting with different techniques, she also uses a variety of diverse and handmade papers and various colored and monochromatic inks.
Peyton also confronts the still-life tradition, often featuring cropped portraits in complex compositions with flowers, statuary, and other motifs associated with the genre, shifting her attention from the single figure to the broader context of the individual’s environment.
One of Peyton’s first exhibitions in New York City was held in a room of the Hotel Chelsea in 1993: visitors would ask the hotel reception for the key to Room 828. This meant that the show was not seen by a huge crowd, of course, but the show succeeded in bringing her into the public eye. A mid-career exhibition of her work started at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in October 2008 and traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and overseas, to the Whitechapel Gallery, London.
Her work has also been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London (2002); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany; Guild Hall, Easthampton, New York (2009); the Metropolitan Opera, New York (2011 and 2016). Most recently, a major retrospective of her portraits, Aire and Angels, was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in London from October 2019 to January 2020. Organized with National Portrait Gallery, Elizabeth Peyton’s first solo show in China was held at UCCA Beijing in 2020 under the title Elizabeth Peyton: Practice.
Peyton has also been included in numerous group exhibitions worldwide including Campo at the 1995 Venice Biennale, Greater New York at MoMA PS1 in 2000, and the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
For her interest in portraiture, Peyton’s work has been compared to Robert Mappelthorpe and other contemporary figurative painters such as John Curran and Lisa Yuskavage. She lives and works in New York, NY.