'That's what it's all about-making art is making something live forever'
(E. Peyton, quoted in J. Cocker, 'Elizabeth Peyton', in http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/elizabeth-peyton/, [accessed 25th May 2013]).
Painted in 1995, John Lennon 1965 (Hotel) is Elizabeth Peyton's intimate painting of a youthful John Lennon, caught in a moment of quiet repose. Exemplary of the American born artist's arresting contemporary portraits, the work was included in Peyton's critically acclaimed Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, which later travelled to the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, and the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht.
There is palpable fondness in the delicate way in which Peyton has rendered the louche young Beatle. Capturing a private moment within a highly public life, Peyton has portrayed Lennon as content and contemplative in his solitude, reclining with a cigarette in opulent red surroundings. A gentle introspective smile plays on his lips, suggesting the creative genius and romantic allure that lay underneath that famous mop of mahogany hair. His porcelain skin and impossibly red lips speak of youthful vulnerability, as do the bashful, coltish eyelashes that shield his gaze. The picture surface, shiny and slick like enamel, arrests our gaze just as Lennon's downward glance evades it. Sumptuously painted in a vibrant palette dominated by red, white and blue, John Lennon 1965 (Hotel) emanates a jewel-like luminosity.
The tenderness with which John Lennon 1965 (Hotel) has been painted reflects Peyton's respect for all her subjects, who vary from close friends to public figureheads, past and present. Peyton chooses her subjects with great care, only selecting people whom she admires, or feels an affinity with. 'There is no separation for me between people I know through their music or photos and someone I know personally.' Peyton has said. 'The way I perceive them is very similar, in that there's no difference between certain qualities that I find inspiring in them' (E. Peyton, quoted in Elizabeth Peyton, exh. cat., Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Hamburg, 2001, p. 18). The familiarity with which she renders her portraits of public figures is highly compelling. Playing on contemporary society's insatiable curiosity about celebrity's personal lives, she captures a human fragility that a cool public persona often hides. In John Lennon 1965 (Hotel), this has been reinforced by the painting's closely cropped composition and expressive brushwork; looking upon his slight, isolated figure from above, we are aware that this is a detail within a life outside the frame.
Combining the luxuriant brushwork of 19th century portraiture, the compositional dynamism of geometric abstract painting and the unmistakable cool of pop culture, Peyton's portraits reflect fantasies of youth, beauty and fame. Enshrining Lennon at the beginning of his extraordinary career, Peyton has reincarnated his winsome beauty and creative verve in her characteristically vivid palette. Perhaps the greatest lesson that Peyton has drawn from art history, therefore, is the way that portraiture can celebrate a person, their energy and their aura. As she has said: 'That's what it's all about-making art is making something live forever. Human beings especially - we can't hold on to them in any way. Painting and art is a way of holding onto things and making things go on through time' (E. Peyton, quoted in J. Cocker, 'Elizabeth Peyton' in http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/elizabeth-peyton/, [accessed 25th May 2013]).