A Brush. With Obsession
Portraits of Peabody
This has two titles. The first is Judy at the Met. The second is Judy Addressing the Masses.Notice the masses cheering in the background. Isn't that neat?" Richard Osterweil, thirty-four, is giving a guided tour of his Bowery loft, which is crammed with his large and completely uncommissioned portraits of Judy Peabody, the New York socialite and philanthropist famous for her aquiline profile and bulletproof bouffant. "This painting" he goes on, 'is based on a photograph of John Singer Sargent in his studio with his painting Madame X. I replaced Madame X with Madame Peabody' and John Singer Sargent with myself at the easel.
"Judy is more than a model to me," explains Osterweil. "She's a muse. There's an aura about her which nobody else has, an aura of grace and vitafity combined. I do paintings of her the way Balanchine created on Suzanne Farrell ' Ballet-mad Osterweil first spotted Judy Peabody, whose good works for the Dance Theatre of Harlem are legendary at Lincoln Center five years ago. Since then he has painted her in the cool flat style of Alex Katz, sensuous like a Matisse odalisque and soignée like David's Madame Récamier, á la Monet and A la Manet, even floating on the Grand Canal in a golden gondola--"my Canaletto."
"You steal from the right places, you're O.K.," says Osterweil whose method. takes him beyond the current artworld rag for Appropriationism into Expropriationism. His Ioft is Iittered with everything from. "Osterweil Brueghels" to "Osterweil Lichtensteins," and his favored subjects include the Russian imperial family, dance stars like Diaghilev and Balanchine, Gertrude Stein, Misia Sert, and Coco Chanel. It is Peabody, though, who most obsesses him: "Very often when I see a painting in a museum, say a Gainsborough , I think, Very nice, but it could be Judy." What does Mrs. Peabody think of all this? "What can I say? I'm enormously complimented. I think Richard's work is marvelous. "
Though Osterweil has given Peabody one of the dozen portraits he's done of her, she hasn't yet bought any. But then, he doesn't have a gallery, and hates selling his work, because he misses it too much. When he does sell an oil, "I have to have visiting rights."
On weekends he drives a taxi for the money and the experience ("Nobody gets out of talking to me"). Otherwise, he spends afternoons in bed reading Proust's letters, Anne Tyler novels, and gossipy biographies, attends the ballet most nights, and then stays up into the early morning painting. His latest masterpiece: "The ultimate portrait of Judy Peabody-a distilled Ingres." - Bob Colacello
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