In Elizabeth Peyton’s 2017 portrait of David Bowie, the late, mercurial star seems to dematerialise before our eyes in airy bubbles of translucent watercolour.
For three decades, Peyton has devotedly painted youthful, feted icons from the pop pantheon, public life, history books or her own creative circle. Her ethereal style suggests fleeting greatness, the vagaries of fame and the short time we have to make our mark.
Her subjects have included Kurt Cobain, Prince Harry, Twilight’s star-crossed lovers and Greta Thunberg. In her small, intimate paintings, this diverse bunch all become distinctly Peyton’s. Pale, almond eyed and with sharp, elfin features, they have the foxy beauty of Elizabethan miniatures.
Mortality haunts this recent portrait of Bowie. Painted shortly after his death, it is based on a photo from 1974, a cocaine-addicted year that reduced him to a pallid walking skeleton, and one that he was lucky to survive.
Included in Elizabeth Peyton: Aire and Angels, National Portrait Gallery, WC2, Thursday 3 October to 5 January