THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
In the present work, a fair-skinned and youthful O’Keeffe stands confidently with her shoulders drawn back and chin held high, her blank gaze fixated on an unknown point beyond the viewer. Attentive to the features in O’Keeffe that Stieglitz highlights in his photograph, Peyton fantastically marries her artistic vision with Stieglitz’s own distinct lens, the boldness of her lips, cheekbones, and darkly rimmed eyes declaring her detachment from reality. Peyton sharpens the contours of O’Keeffe’s eyes, nose, and jawline and accentuates her neck and breastplate, achieving a sharpness of physcographic features that evokes the chiaroscuro Stieglitz masterfully achieves in his black and white photography. Peyton emphasizes the angularity of O’Keeffe’s features through contrasting colors, as watery, fleshy hues abut inky black lines. Painting in a limited palette of cool blues, soft browns, and creamy whites, Peyton uses broad brushstrokes and diluted paints that expressively capture and dutifully record the visceral, textured quality of paint and paintbrush traveling across canvas. Watering down her paints to achieve nuanced tonal variations in her composition within a limited palette, Peyton simplifies and abstracts form while still capturing the remarkable likeness of her sitter. O’Keeffe’s No. 15 Special hangs behind O’Keeffe and frames her face with a halo of light. Peyton here references an art historical tradition in which a portrait painting suggests a sitter’s profession or interests through inclusion of thematic objects or possessions surrounding the subject.
Throughout her revolutionary artistic career, Peyton has painted friends, lovers, prominent celebrities, and historical figures alike, all with piercing attention and virtuosic draftsmanship. As with the present work, Peyton often looks to published photographs or the media for her source images; in referencing existing images, Peyton conveys her ongoing fascination with the capacity of an image to hold in tension various layers of representation, each fraught with their own inaccuracies and sources of bias, and reflects her desire to investigate the power of representation itself. While Peyton deliberately paints individuals in specific historical moments, she simultaneously abstracts her compositions and disengages her sitters from their social, political, cultural contexts; at the psychological crux of her art is juxtaposition between anonymity and recognition, individuality and uniformity.
O’Keeffe first met Stieglitz, who was 24 years her senior, in 1916 when she visited Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery, and the two began a deeply intimate and close relationship, eventually marrying in 1924. Stieglitz and O’Keeffe inspired and elevated each other: O’Keeffe immediately became Stieglitz’s most beloved muse, reinvigorating his passion for photography, and in turn Stieglitz, who was a critical voice in the art world at the time, helped tremendously to elevate O’Keeffe’s nascent artistic career, helping her gain recognition as an American landscape painter and including her in shows at his gallery, 291 Gallery. The narrative of the present portrait is further complicated by Peyton’s own fraught art historical relationship with Alfred Stieglitz; with the advent of photography and mass-dissemination of the camera in the 20th century, the veracity of portraiture was called into question as, for the first time in art history, portraiture was relinquished from its obligation to anatomical accuracy and record keeping. Elizabeth Peyton’s revolutionary oeuvre asserts through a distinctly feminine voice the enduring relevance of portrait painting in the grand narrative of art history, and the prevailing relevance of the genre of portraiture in the 21st century despite the ubiquity of images and advent of photographic technology in our present culture.
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