'Most of the paintings of artists are of people I know unless they happen to be dead, like Georgia O'Keefe or Frida Kahlo. The picture of Angus means a lot to me and I'm happy to have had that time with him' (E. Peyton, quoted in O. Ward, 'Elizabeth Peyton: interview', Time Out, July 2009, reproduced at www.timeout.com).
Caressed into being through her idiosyncratic use of thinned, luminous oils, Angus is a portrait by Elizabeth Peyton, showing her friend, the late and great British artist, Angus Fairhurst. This picture dates from 2005, three years before Fairhurst's tragic death, and shows him relaxed, a book open on his lap. Fairhurst was an intriguing character within the art world in London, having been one of the pathfinding artists who exhibited in Damien Hirst's seminal 1988 exhibition, Freeze. He was one of the most significant of the so-called Young British Artists, and amongst the other exhibitions in which his work was shown, both group and one-man, was the 1997 Sensation at the Royal Academy, London and, just the year before Angus was painted, In-a-Gadda-da-Vida at Tate Britain with his friends Hirst and Sarah Lucas. Fairhurst's complex and multifaceted output explored various different aspects of art, not least notions of self-portraiture and self-presentation. The fact that Fairhurst figured in his own work usually in the guise (and even the ill-fitting costume) of a gorilla makes this tender portrait all the more poignant.
The paintings with which American painter Peyton first cemented her reputation often showed the eminent figures and celebrities of the day or of previous eras, for instance Napoleon, Sid Vicious or Queen Elizabeth II. However, as she herself became more famous, she captured the people in her own milieu, not least during her time living in London during the 1990s. Suddenly, a more British centre of gravity appeared in her works, which showed figures such as Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn as well as Oscar Wilde's lover, Bosie. As her recognition as an artist grew, she painted more and more of the artists she herself came to know, such as Fairhurst. These figures are often shown in intimate poses. Rather than exuding their public personas, they are shown at ease, not looking at the viewer but instead absorbed in their own worlds. Another example, for instance, shows Maurizio Cattelan eating Mexican food.
In this way, Peyton has created a range of paintings which examine the entire nature of fame, first from the outside and increasingly from within its folds. It is the instability, the whimsy, of celebrity that becomes the overarching concern in these paintings, which serve both as tokens of her own admiration for the subjects and warnings of the fickle nature of fame and the ebbing flux that characterises the world in general: it's just really overwhelming to me that time passes. I'm constantly thinking about it, and kind of obsessing about it. How things change, how I change, how there's no stopping it' (E. Peyton, quoted in S. Lafreniere, 'A Conversation with the Artist', pp. 251-53, Elizabeth Peyton, New York, 2005, p. 252). In Angus, this aspect becomes all the more poignant because of his subsequent death, which adds an extra layer of significance, tragic prescience and overriding relevance to this picture.