Testament to Doig’s reputation as an avid student of art history, Bird House takes as its point of departure from the painterly aesthetics of such modern masters as Edvard Munch, Paul Gaugin and Pieter Bruegel the Elder among others. In particular, the snowy foreground of Bird House combines soft impressions of blue and white, recalling the diaphanous, almost bled-out brush-work apparent in Claude Monet’s winter landscapes. Yet standing in direct contrast, the branches emanating from the central tree appear like webbed tendrils which recall the expressive splashes of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings. The cornerstone of Doig’s talent is epitomised therefore in the alchemy with which he combines these influences into a vocabulary which is unmistakably his.
In the present work, the central tree transcends conventional notions of formal grammar or contextual setting, imbued with substantial anthropomorphic character it resonates with the forests of fantasy and fiction, concealing secrets in the mythological and cinematic landscape in which it sits. As the dominant form in the work, the tree serves as a pronounced painterly device by obscuring the viewer’s perspective and acting as an obstacle through which one is compelled to peer at the intimated secrets which lie beyond. Doig deftly contributes to this effect through the ambiguity of the forms he represents. Through the finger-like branches of the tree, quiet suggestions of colour emerge as the dyeing remnants of leaves, falling snow or perhaps the distant twinkling of lights which all appear to exist concurrently within separate narratives. The simultaneity of meaning and attribution apparent in Bird House therefore contributes to a sense of the oneiric whereby forms appear to be at once representing one thing and another in a dreamlike sense of relation and existence.
This compositional obscurity was first used to great effect in Doig’s Concrete Cabin works from the early 1990s and The Architects Home in the Ravine (1991), the present work therefore representing a bridge between these celebrated works and the Ski Jacket series(1993 – 1996). Painted in 1995, Bird House sits within an epoch of Doig’s most sought after and highly acclaimed works and it was during this period where the importance of what Doig was doing became glaringly apparent. In 1991 Doig received the Whitechapel Artist Award resulting in solo exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery of his first ‘Canoe’ paintings; in 1993 he won the John Moore’s prize at the Walker art gallery with his extraordinary work Blotter; in 1994 he was nominated for the Turner Prize and in 1995 became a Trustee of the Tate Gallery. Painted during the pinnacle of Doig’s ascension to critical acclaim, Bird House is an exceptional combination of the complex artistic devices and breathtaking atmosphere which have come to characterise the best of Doig.
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