's blog covering community artists, gallery shows, and the whereabouts of young entrepreneurs and artistic talents from NY, LA, London, Paris, the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton at The New Museum

In an art world championed by monumental sculptures and large-format prints, Elizabeth Peyton, painter of small oil portraits and aquatint street scenes, would seem an unlikely success. But such is the mystery and romanticism that shrouds the elusive artists’ career; one that begun in a Chelsea hotel room and continues now in the monumental white box of The New Museum’s main gallery. Almost fifteen years and over a hundred paintings later, there’s still much to be resolved.

In looking for answers within Peyton’s work, we’re forced to contemplate her subject matter which ranges from historical figures (Napoleon, Ludwig II of Bavaria) to more recent celebrities (Kurt Cobain, Jarvis Cocker) to friends and family, many of who are famous in their own right, including the artists Matthew Barney and Piotr Uklański and the designer Marc Jacobs. The later are the most interesting, for what at first appears as systematic star fucking on closer inspection becomes a meditation on the temporality of life.

A portrait of the rapper Eminem, casually titled Em, finds the celebrity in a contemplative, vulnerable state, uneasily positioned against a monotonous grey backdrop while a portrait of the Oasis front man Liam Gallagher and Pulp rocker Jarvis Cocker captures a private moment between two very public figures. The people that populate Peyton’s paintings are not always famous, as in Spencer Walking, in which a friend walks into a bustling city landscape, but even as so they are cast in an iconic light surrounded by figures like Walt Whitman and Keith Richards.

Such romantic a notion could only be fostered by a gallerist like Gavin Brown, Peyton’s long time collaborator who has been known to allow his artists free range within his Chelsea space (even letting the artist Urs Fischer dig a crater into the marble of his gallery’s floor.) Peyton met Brown in 1995 while living in New York, a recent SVA graduate and Brown an aspiring gallerist on the brink of buying his first space. Peyton’s first show was mounted in a small room in The Chelsea Hotel, which Brown had rented allowing visitors to request a key at the front desk. The iconic locale, where Bob Dylan wrote Highway 66 and Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning, is a monument of artistic death and rebirth, which provided the perfect setting for Peyton’s faded icons.

But here, finally on display in a museum, they seem out of place; naked without setting and bare without context. Against white walls, Peyton’s work looses its figurative duality but engages in an irony that so very fitting for her work. Spaced against the walls, lit from overhead, every piece, every fleeting moment seems to live forever.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mighty Ink

When Kevin Kallaugher was middle school, he thought it might be funny to draw a cartoon of his teacher. After he drew it, it soon started getting passed under desks and collecting giggles from every corner of the room. He was feeling proud and confident of himself, until, by some terrible stroke of bad luck, his teacher got hold of it. She was appalled by the image, which stressed her most prominent feature: a loud talking mouth. She made Kallaugher come up to the front of the class where she shamed him, making him promise that he would never do it again.

Kallaugher did not keep his promise; in fact he did the direct opposite. Today, Kevin ‘Kal’ Kallaugher is the chief cartoonist for The Economist Magazine, where every week, his distinct ink cartoons shed some light and humor on the generally dour state of affairs in the world-at-large.

He spoke last Saturday to a full house at the Edison Theatre, in the second of a series of programs hosted by The Economist Magazine. Audiences were made privy to the ins and outs of a professional cartoonist’s life; a highly specific line of work that he says, “maybe only roughly 80 people in this country actually make a living from.”

“The pen is powerful,” Kallaugher warned, as he spoke of the Muhammad cartoon controversy in 05’, in which a Danish newspaper printed cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, “People got angry, people were killed. There were riots,” he said, “That was because of a cartoon.”

Kallaugher explained that the “trick” to political cartooning, is to identify the signature features of your subjects, and accentuate on them. “Sarah Palin is a hard one to draw,” he said, as he started giving us an actual demonstration on a big white paper board, “because she has this one eye that keeps on blinking.”

McCain, he explained, “is Piranha-like” as he drew the candidate with a chuffed angry face, and John Kerry has a “massive chin,” for which he taped another sheet to the base of the first one to draw fully.

Kallaugher stressed the importance of political cartoons, and why we love them, “Cartoons are empowering to those under authority,” he said; they can poke and chide. “Our job is not to make you laugh,” he said, “its to make you think.”

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