People seeing the paintings of the Utrecht artist Eline Peek (1970) for the first time tend to shuffle by in shock or embarrassment or to look away. Her big, all-revealing ‘portraits’ make you feel quite uneasy. The confrontational nudes are, in the first instance, not pleasing to the eye: decrepit, sagging bodies, hollow-eyed faces, droopy breasts, pendulous folds of skin, angular limbs, an unhealthy skin and genitalia prominently on show. Without any inhibitions they pose nude or in their underwear. All larger than life-sized and shamelessly facing the viewer, what’s more their eyes stare searchingly at you; they are actually looking for contact.
Eline Peek’s paintings appear to be merciless portraits of people in a way that we would actually prefer not to see. Her figures are far removed from the ideal image of man. There is no classic Venus or muscular Tarzan here. The prominent signs of old-age and decay make such an impression on the viewer that the personalities of the people portrayed are momentarily ignored. But once we take the courage to look, then the empathy of the artist, her compassion for the vulnerability of man are revealed.
The faces seem particularly friendly and open, the person is approachable. Through her study of the naked exterior, Peek also fathoms the inner self of those depicted. Nevertheless, she does not paint actual portraits, because she does not use any models. She mainly works with impressions from the streets or images from the media. Peeks working method often starts with one spot which grows, through transparent layers applied in restrained tones, into the skin and the form of her creations. The depiction is not complete until the moment that the artist feels a real character standing before her. The neutral background is austere and the figures sometimes have a single attribute or item of clothing.