The 2009 Creativity 50: Elizabeth Peyton

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The day after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, The New Museum in Manhattan added a painting to "Live Forever," the museum's mid-career retrospective of Elizabeth Peyton's work. The painting, an impressionistic depiction of Michelle and Sasha Obama listening to Barack's speech at the Democratic convention—like much of Peyton's work—is rooted firmly in the historical present. The pixieish SVA grad's breakthrough came in 1994, when—scarcely a year after the singer's suicide—she exhibited a series of wan, melancholy portraits of Kurt Cobain. Since then—like a hip mashup of Andy Warhol and John Singer Sargent—she has attempted to document the personal in the popular with lithe, colorful portraits of figures ranging from Princess Di to Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Although her subjects are often famous—and critics are sometimes skeptical as a result—Peyton insists that she's interested in something other than celebrity. "For me the point ... wasn't celebrity in itself ... but really it was about what these people did," she explained to the Laura Hoptman, curator of the retrospective, which will travel to Minneapolis, London, and the Netherlands. "Because if it was about celebrity, I'd be making pictures of Michael Jackson. There's a very specific kind of person that I'm making pictures of."

Peyton Self-portrait, "Live to Ride" 2003 Oil on board, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Partial and promised gift of David Teiger in honor of Chrissie Iles, courtesy Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York

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