W magazine had asked me to contribute something for their fall 2008 art issue and said I could do whatever I wanted. Originally I told them that I wanted to make a picture of Barack Obama from life (rather than a photo), which didn't work out. I thought they had dropped the idea and meanwhile I was asked to make a piece for a New York City monthly art and music salon -- called Evas Arche und der Feminist -- and I made the picture of Michelle and Sasha.
I made the picture in five days, which is unusually fast for me. I bought all of the magazines with the Obamas in them and looked for pic tures. This particular image comes from Jet magazine. I was struck by this image of Michelle and Sasha because it was so normal and monumental at the same time -- a transcendent mother-and-child picture in the midst of history being made. The original photo was already great but by making it into a painting transformed it into a transcendent image.
One might say it's a milestone to have Barack Obama elected as president, but to have an African American first lady and daughters somehow seems more transgressive and culture changing.
-- Interview conducted and condensed by Jessica Dawson
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Elizabeth Peyton and Gavin Brown's Enterprise WEB EDITOR: Stephanie Merry - washingtonpost.com