Meet Isaac Peifer, the Painter Immortalizing Cringe on the Canvas

Isaac Peifer at BravoCon.

“It was a pretty shitty portrait of Jeffrey Epstein,” recalls Isaac Peifer, the self-taught painter hailing from New Mexico and now living in Harlem of his first-ever viral piece of art. For him, painting patrons of cringe like Caitlyn Jenner and Ghislaine Maxwell was a hobby in which he found respite during the endless lockdown of 2020. Inspired by the feedback loop of celebrities-turned-memes, Peifer takes viral moments, like EmRata holding her baby like that, or Hunter Biden smoking a crack pipe in a sensory deprivation tank, and cements them on canvas for posterity and pleasure. “I think of all of these characters as jesters,” he told me, “bringing this spirit of camp and over-the-top humor and being wedged into something that’s supposed to be more serious.” His first show at THNK1994 Gallery, aptly titled Cringe, showcased a collection of paintings of “disgraced or embarrassed celebrities.”

Last month, he returned to the gallery with Slay: Queer Villains, a pop-up show centered around iconically embarrassing LGBTQ+ figures like Jenner, George Santos, and Che Diaz of And Just Like That... “At the heart of the matter, it’s something joyful and funny,” he explains. “That’s sort of how I see gay culture.” After his show wrapped, I met Peifer at his studio in Ridgewood to find out more about his paintings, or “children,” including one that shows Miranda Hobbes climaxing in her kitchen and another that portrays that viral Canadian teacher with Jimbo-esque breasts.




Isaac Peifer, Che Diaz.

“I do really love that painting because without any context—it’s a very dramatic picture. But in context, it really exemplifies what the exhibition [Slay] was about, which was the tension between something really serious and something totally unserious. For that one in particular, I was really interested in Che Diaz as a cultural artifact because one gets the sense, watching And Just Like That... that the writers really wrote this character as somebody who was going to be beloved or something. This character was sort of atoning for all of the past perceived sins of the original show not being inclusive enough. So they wrote this character who checked every single box, and then you just ended up with this idea that seemed totally out of place and unbelievable and widely hated—at least in the circle I run with. That character was just a joke.”




Isaac Peifer, Hunter Biden.

“Hunter is the gift that just keeps giving in terms of capturing what I think of as the ‘romantic absurdism’ of our age. He’s the president’s wayward son, he’s handsome, and pathologically compelled to self-document every indiscretion. I’d imagine the idea of ‘getting away with it’ defeats the purpose of his particular thrill-seeking. I can’t imagine what a headache he must be for all the people who lamented the reality-TV-edification of the White House under Trump and wanted so badly the return of the cloying perfection presented by the Obama family. But what I really find fascinating is, as a society, we don’t seem all that phased by his stunts.”

“If JFK Jr. used to be an apt image of ‘American Royalty,’ I think Hunter fits the bill now. I think squeaky-clean politicians with perfect families and backgrounds will be met with suspicion. Hunter Biden smoking crack in a sensory deprivation tank is a beautiful depiction of futility in trying to disappear from the fray while simultaneously trying to maximize our indulgence in it.”




Isaac Peifer, George Santos.

“This photo came at just the right time because I had already been well on my way through putting this show together. I really wanted to have a painting of George Santos, but I could not find an interesting photo. All of the photos could not have made interesting things, so I sadly thought I just wouldn’t include him. Or maybe just have a really small portrait somewhere. But then this photo came out. He does what I love the most about gay people, which is just don’t give a shit. You can’t help but marvel at this person and kind of root for him, in a weird way. Maybe the more sophisticated people out there only see this person, this bad actor as a bad person doing bad things. [But] what makes gay people so good is that they’re just irreverent. They’re spectacular. This is a side effect of what happens as gay people gain prominence, you’re going to see more and more spectacular personalities.”




“The lack of awareness is what makes Caitlyn Jenner actually so lovable. She’s a clownish character. I wanted to give a nice array of pop culture. Because I  think of LGBTQ+ culture as pop culture. It’s insufferable. This was an image that I saw on Twitter, I think the caption is what I titled it, which is “Caitlyn Jenner Smoking Outside of Her Malibu House.” It was sort of an aerial paparazzi photo. It was this really intriguing image, even if you couldn’t tell exactly that it was her, it is a woman smoking in a desolate landscape, looking at her reflection. I was like, ‘that’s all you need.'”




“The Housewives paintings were actually for BravoCon last year. THNK1994 partnered with Bravo to supply paintings and so me and a few other artists got to paint those. The images were chosen by Bravo and were featured in the various VIP lounges and stuff. They’re now all property of Bravo and I have no idea what’s become of them but I like to think they’re hanging up somewhere. In my mind palace, this one is hanging at Sutton’s house.”




“This one’s called ‘Canadian Shop Teacher (Kayla Lemieux)’. This is something that happened on the internet that I have deeply fallen in love with. For Halloween, I dressed up as this person. It’s just so funny. Even without knowing anything, it’s such a bizarre image. And the more you learn about it, the funnier it gets. And funny, yes, kind of at the expense of the queers. But I think if there’s one thing that the queers have historically been pretty good at, it’s laughing at themselves. It was reported on originally by right-wing media, sort of like, ‘This is what it’s come to. Can’t you see, our society is crumbling?’ From what I can gather, this was sort of a provocateur teacher who had previously been known as a sort of libertarian, anti-woke sort of person, trying to prove a point and maybe more cynically just trying to win paid time off, or something like that.”