Cyril Connolly, in Enemies of Promise, said, "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall." In the main office at Sadie Coles HQ, during the party for Elizabeth Peyton's new show, I balefully noted a large cot which, I reckoned, didn't augur well for Peyton's normal mixture of third-hand celebrity paintings and intimate portraits of her dippy unknown SoHo/Hoxton-style friends.
The crowd, a dolly mixture which included art students there for the beer and architecture types on the first rungs of the art-buying ladder, seemed to be that bit superior to Peyton's inner circle. I talked with the 19th/20th Century Irish Art expert Michael Murphy and saw a famous enough homosexual dancer. I bumped into filmmaker Sean Linezo, once from Florida, whom I'd hung out with earlier in the day at the Horse Hospital. He was staging a STAREMASTER event at the Hospital the following night. This involved showing his documentary on U.S. staring contests and having a live staring competition. Punk entrepreneur Jello Biafra has endorsed the STAREMASTER phenomenon, saying, "Vernon... Marilyn Manson... Deicide...Genitorturers... shooting abortion doctors... now this. What is it about Florida that creates these things?"
The main room contained a series of small paintings, many of Truffaut, many of nobodies. Upstairs were the offices (they don't call it HQ for nothing - the desk/art ratio was impressive) that play host to the cot and to the f?™ted/debated portrait of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat from The Libertines.
I had to leave quickly to waste my money at a bad punk rock gig taking place on the other side of Soho.
I went back six days later to have a second look, this time accompanied by music writer Chris Campion who just wrote an important feature on Norwegian Death Metal for The Observer's music supplement. I didn't really want to see the small works in the main room again; I wanted to have a better look at Pete & Carl. The office cot had been joined by an actual pram and by an actual living breathing Enemy of Promise, albeit a particularly engaging Enemy.
There's a touch of Hockney about some of Peyton's work, but there is also a touch of the guys you see on city street corners offering to do your portrait in charcoal for a tenner. Hockney's portraits of his nobodies turn them into Immortals; Peyton's don't have quite the same effect.
Pete & Carl improves on the Libertines' album cover from which it's copied. Doherty gets a bit more crotch and Barat looks a little less porky. It bears comparison with Swinging London, Richard Hamilton's 1967 portrait of Jagger handcuffed to Robert Fraser. The band is not the Stones, London is not the city it once was, and the junk drama is now being acted out in lowlife, not highlife. Chris didn't think much of it but I thought Pete & Carl important and desirable.
Elizabeth Peyton is at Sadie Coles HQ, London until April 2nd sadiecoles.com
Pete & Carl (large image), 2004, copyright the Artist, Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.