When asked for her personal definition of portraiture, Elizabeth Peyton replied, "It's always about the person; making them there, making them look the best they can, and saving them forever." (L. Pilgram, "An Interview with a Painter" Parkett 53, Zurich, p. 59, 1998).
When Peyton painted this portrait of Colin De Land the tendency in her work was to focus on the people that populated her inner circle and personal world--friends, musicians famous or otherwise artists and dealers. Whether they were well known or not, each subject was given the full dignity of star treatment. Each subject seems to be so achingly cool, that there is an instant desire to know them personally. Part Andy Warhol, part David Hockney, Peyton's world of portraits is an updated and slightly tweaked version of her two favorite predecessors. Like Warhol, Peyton brings an air of celebrity to her subjects--even if they look disheveled as they languidly lounge after a hard night something about them emanates power, fame, a deserving of attention. Peyton's subjects are from her world, but seem to belong in the larger, public world in the same manner of Warhol's celebrity portraits.
But it might be the influence of David Hockney that makes a more poignant connection to Peyton. Hockney separated from a more formal art world to submerge himself in his own world--Los Angeles, swimming pools, friends, their friends, life, etc. Peyton similarly engages a life-affirming desire to paint what and who she wants as they enter the lens of her daily life. What Hockney and Peyton share are the deep rewards of making their private desires the subject of their work. Both artists paint with a remarkably rare conviction and a certainty that their subjects need to be known to the world.
Renowned in the New York art scene, Colin De Land and the activities at his galleries, first in the heyday of the 1980's East Village at Vox Populi on East 6th Street, and then from 1988 until 2003 at the American Fine Arts on Wooster Street in SoHo, branded him as a conceptual artist as much as a gallerist. He became an art dealer by accident, when he offered to sell a Warhol painting for a neighbor who needed money for drugs. The milieu at American Fine Arts was characterized by a relaxed work atmosphere. Exhibitions did not always open on time and they often defied convention in installation. They were often critiques--of painting, of video, of institutional authority, of art itself. He permitted an artist to close the gallery for his month long slot in protest of commercialization in the art world. At times he exhibited fictional artists, such as the famous John Dogg, whose work was suspected, though never confirmed, to be a collaboration between Colin and Richard Prince. In addition, he showed many artists early in their careers, including Cady Noland, Jessica Stockholder, Mariko Mori and Alex Bag. On one occasion, when the art market was at its worst in the middle 1990s, Colin held a benefit at and for the gallery, and more than 200 artists donated works, even though most were represented by other dealers. It was precisely this kind of fabulous eccentricity that Peyton found alluring about Colin.
At the time Peyton painted this work, Colin was in the height of his career, or anti-career, as he may have wanted it. Still in his youth, 38 years old at the time it was made, Colin was an icon to artists, as it was just becoming clear that a different kind of dealer was emerging--the fiercely competitive deal maker that drove the market to where it is. De Land died of cancer at age 47 in 2003, following the fate of his wife, the art dealer Pat Hearn who died in 2000. Peyton's rendering of him is successful in "saving him forever" as she expresses as a desire for her work. Large, nearly heroic in scale by the standards of Peyton's work, Colin's portrait is anti-heroic in every way. Peyton has captured Colin in a particularly pensive moment. Lounging in an armchair, donning a rumpled grey suit and think woolen ski cap, Colin is alone with his thoughts in an unself-conscious moment. His head is lowered, his hands rest limply over his crossed legs. His skin is perfectly pale and Peyton has given him scarlet red lips and long eye lashes. He is lovingly rendered. His image is vulnerable and the way in which it is painted--passionately--but without regard for technical accuracy or virtuosity, seems to reflect the same vulnerability as the subject.
In the words of the writer David Rimanelli, Peyton's "pictures distill the feeling of falling in love, with all its pathos and failure. Peyton seems never to tire of this feeling; seems willing to do it again and again." (D. Rimanelli, "Elizabeth Peyton: Symptom, Expression," Elizabeth Peyton: Live Forever, New York: Synergy, Inc., 1997, p.5). The viewer is compelled to love Peyton's subjects, but also to admire their influence or destiny. In the case of Colin De Land, Peyton clearly chose him as a subject because he fully met her criteria: "I think about how influential some people are in others' lives. So it doesn't matter who they are or how famous they are but rather how beautiful is the way they live their lives and how inspiring they are for others." (Elizabeth Peyton in an interview with Francesco Bonami, "We've Been Looking at Images for so Long That We've Forgotten Who We Are", Flash Art International, Vol. XXIX, Nr. 187, March-April 1996, p, 84).