Portraiture, in itself, remains a specific art form. From the cool marble busts of ancient Roman emperors, to the glittering tempera panels of Renaissance rulers, to even the bright pop silkscreens of 1960s socialites, portraits reflect both the sitter himself and, inevitably, his time and place. Peyton's oeuvre is undoubtedly just that, a reflection of her environment. The artist draws her subjects, not from sittings in the flesh, but rather from the media: newspapers, magazines, videos and books. The personalities she chooses to portray, then, are just as varied. Peyton has brought life to European royalty, both past and present, creating romantic images of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and Princess Diana and her children. Her paintings also depict those in her own profession, artists, like Maurizio Cattelan and Jake Chapman, as well as the legendary Andy Warhol. Celebrities, too, are often found on her brightly colored panels; she seems to have a certain affinity for rock stars like Kurt Cobain, but she has also portrayed champions of the silver screen, like Leonardo diCaprio. Despite her affinity for the rich and famous, Peyton has also created images of her close friends in domestic settings; the viewer is introduced to them in their bedroom or kitchen.
The subject of the current lot is Mark Webber, the guitarist of the British rock band Pulp, which thrived in the mid-ninties. Webber's red hair is exaggerated and his features become effeminate, however, the portrait is deeply accurate of a motion, a phone call and the ethos of a place and time. Much like her predecessor David Hockney, the works created by Peyton show the subject in moments that are both intimate and casual; the viewer is allowed access to a voyeuristic moment. As described by the Swiss art historian Philip Ursprung, the artist's work "still lingers on in the fairy-tale aura that surrounds contemporary stars whose private lives are so interesting because they are a domain where fantasy can run free, and which neither the stars nor the public have entirely at their command. In Peyton's hands, painting takes on comparable characteristics, that is, it is a domain which may not entirely be controlled. She fluctuates between utopian claims to universal relevance and her consciousness of the limitations of an artform past its prime - and it is this very dualism that generates the sheer excitement of her art." (P. Ursprung, "Lob der Hand. Zu Elizabeth Peyton Malerei," Parkett, vol. 53, 1998, p. 80)