Elizabeth Peyton’s portraits of both her friends and members of the cultural elite of her era, (Kurt Cobain comes to mind), first gained celebrity in the mid-to-late 90s. Since then, there has been what one might informally call a Peyton school of portraiture, particularly among young or emerging artists. Peyton herself owes a debt to the great portrait painter Alice Neel, known for her incisive psychological studies, and in fact paid homage to Neel with a nude image of the artist (referencing Neel’s own famous nude self-portrait at age 80.)
Deliberately rendered in a somewhat crude or awkward manner, Peyton’s paintings still exude an intimate humanity, particularly those of her friends or lovers. The same could be said of the work of the British artist Chantal Joffe, whose often large-scale, stylized portraits of women and children, highlighting their clothing and accessories, also directly references
Neel (particularly Joffe’s 2012 nude self-portrait on a striped chaise lounge). While Joffe’s work is considerably more attenuated and minimalist than Peyton’s, the features of the subjects in both artists’ portraits have been purposefully pared-down and simplified.
Add Doron Langberg to that genre. The 32-year-old Israeli-born artist focuses on friends (including several fellow artists) and family members. The dozen works on display at 1969 gallery through February 26, in a show entitled Now and Memory, include paintings and several large works on paper, most of them done in 2016.
Unlike Peyton or Joffe, whose work is accomplished and instantly recognizable, the artist has yet to develop a signature style. Nor does his work necessarily evoke his time, a strong suit of both Peyton and Joffe.
The most striking paintings include a nude male, his upper half in deep shadow, stretched out on a striped blanket. In Mark on the Beach, the subject wears only sunglasses and a hat, his genitals casually coiled on his thigh. The nudity appears to be almost an afterthought, a counterpoint to the cocked hat, that, along with the stripes, gives the painting a jaunty air.
An impressionistic, yellow-tinged (Untitled) portrait of Langberg’s mother, who, despite the fact that she is wrapped in a white stole or shawl, looks extremely masculine, shows her in a pensive mode, chin leaning on hand. A delicate, gauzy portrait of Julia, (2015) another artist, is in contrast to the more finished, conventional depiction of his friend Zoe. Elika is a strong, full-figure portrait of his older sister, in a red chair.
Two large graphite works on paper also display Langberg’s ability to evoke a full scene from fairly minimal details. His portrait, simply entitled Dad, shows a man whose upper body and head almost disappear into the pillows he is resting on, while his lower body, in pants with racing stripes, is clearly defined against the couch. And Gaby and Julia, one of several double portraits, captures two female friends lounging comfortably on a sofa. Here the rug beneath their feet is given more detail than the two figures, but the painting conveys the easy-going familiarity of friends just hanging out.
Langberg is worth watching, and it will be interesting to see how his work evolves: if he heads further in the direction of one painting in this show, Julia and Snake, with a composition that focuses on its graphic rather than figurative elements (Julia is shown as a silhouette as she paints a snake on a red-patterned background.)
Langberg’s work is included in the collection of Susan and Michael Hort (The Hort Family Collection). This year, they will feature about seven of Langberg’s paintings in their annual curated installation, timed with the upcoming Armory Show.
Phoebe Hoban is contributing editor at RIOT MATERIAL. She has written about culture and the arts for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, ARTnews, and The New York Observer, among others. She is the author of three artist biographies: Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, (1998), published as an e-book in May, 2016; Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, (2010) and Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open, (2014).