Lee Siegel in the Wall Street journal has a thoughtful overview of Elizabeth Peyton’s portraiture in the context of the Live Forever survey that opens Saturday at the Walker (or Friday, if you attend the After Hours preview party).
She includes a brief history of portrait painting, looking at more recent portraiture in terms of an “American artistic wrestling with the human face in the teeth of photography, movies, television and now the Internet.” Painters like Picasso, she notes, broke down the human visage early last century, no doubt the result of any number of complicated responses to the popularization of photography; later, artists naturally brought about a return to realism — or some semblance thereof (see Alice Neel and Chuck Close, two relatively recent surveys at the Walker).
Siegel asserts that in contemplating at one of Peyton’s portraits, “You suddenly realize that you are not experiencing a person, but a puzzle woven around a person, a social and psychological riddle that is also made up of art-historical allusions, from Antoine Watteau’s wistful youths to Pierre Bonnard’s haunting ellipses. This is not so much the image of a person as a person’s ideal image of himself.” Or, as she states later, perhaps it is Elizabeth Peyton’s ideal image of that person – or Peyton’s own ideal image of herself. Before things get too convoluted, I’ll just close by noting that painting a likeness of somebody, rich or poor, famous or obscure, ultimately does little service to reality. Instead, it opens the door to all kinds of mysteries, not just about the subject, but about the painter herself.
Speaking of mysteries and portraiture, a figure known as “Least Wanted” has a fantastic Flickr collection of that most nefarious form of portraiture: mug shots, – which, whhen you think about it, might be one of the most neutral forms of portraiture. Among the dozens of wide-ranging sets on LW’s account is a quartet of arresting (ha) females from Minneapolis (the images are copyrighted, otherwise I’d show one here). (Thanks to Hrag Vartanian.)