Painted in 1997, John Lennon recording "Abbey Road", 1969 is a portrait of the young British pop sensation rendered in the artist's signature intimate scale and lush, painterly style. A popular subject for the artist, and one of her most highly regarded, the portrait captures a young Lennon in repose, tenderly contemplating his microphone during a seemingly informal recording session. Capturing a private moment within a highly public life, Peyton has portrayed Lennon here as meditative in his work. The intensely hued background comprised of swaddles of fuchsia, orange and red, contrasts vividly with the soft blues and porcelain skin of the youthful Lennon.
The tight crop of the composition focuses in on a personal moment, taking place within a complicated broader context. Abbey Road was the 11th and final album the Beatles recorded together, and its release timed with a period infamously fraught with conflict for the band. In fact, Peyton's subject here is more evocative of a younger Lennon, who by 1969 had already abandoned his youthful mop for a longer coif that accompanied the political chasms that rocked the group and would lead to their eventual break up.
Nevertheless, the tenderness with which John Lennon recording "Abbey Road", 1969 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 and often working from photographs. There is an inherent sense of narrative present in these works, pulsating with nostalgia, imbued with romance and sometimes wrought with angst that is based completely upon her pictorial style. "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 distinctive familiarity with which she renders her portraits of public figures creates an indisputable intrigue and attraction. Figures are painted in a delicate, even androgynous manner, with loose brushwork and shiny glazes that further the idiosyncratic quality of her portraits. Playing on contemporary society's insatiable curiosity about celebrity's personal lives, she captures a human fragility that a cool public persona often hides. 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]).