Adopting the mentality of a pioneer or hunter, Peter Doig’s work delves deep into the tradition of the painted landscape. Knowingly acknowledging the conventions governing painting to charter his own unique course, although seemingly pastoral, Doig’s landscapes are highly contrived and are more the materialisation of a mental space than any singular location.
Like the cinematic sources from which Doig’s paintings often arise, the light and organisation of his compositions are as artificial as that of any film. Doig works by accumulating images from a diverse visual archive of popular sources and creating a web of associations through aesthetic and thematic judgements to give rise to a wholly new image. As the artist explained, “I think the way the paintings come out is more a way of trying to depict an image that is not about a reality, but one that is somehow in between the actuality of a scene and something that is in your head.” (cited in M. Higgs, ‘Peter Doig – 20 Questions’ in, Exh. Cat., British Columbia, University of British Columbia, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Peter Doig, 2001, p. 15)
Grasshopper takes as its subject a Hans Namuth photograph of Jackson Pollock lying down; a motif which also provides the central focus for one of Doig’s most important paintings of the 1990s, Daytime Astronomy, (fig. 1). Although aesthetically far removed from Doig's own style of distinctive figuration, he acknowledges the influence of Pollock's technique and builds his images through a similar process of cumulative layering.
Rejecting tried and tested methods of classical composition in favour of an altogether more compelling spatial ambiguity, every detail here is bathed in the same ethereal light which holds our eye in a state of dreamlike suspense. Doig achieves this through the diaphanous veil that at once masks and constructs the image, and the translucence of the image actually serves to enhance the atmospheric density of its pictorial surface. Here, Doig presents a self-contained world in which colour is purely a carrier of symbolic and emotional meaning; a means of accentuating the obsessive poetry of the fluidly repeated patterns.
Doig’s distinctive brand of figuration although inherently abstract always remains recognisable. His childhood growing up in Canada and the immensity of the landscape there had an expansive influence upon his vision, and there is a distinctive feeling of human transience and insignificance in the present work. Doig - like many of today’s figurative painters - has always been a great admirer of Edward Hopper’s work; in particular its ability to suggest a psychological state rather than a specific place. As Doig explains, Hopper’s work, “not only suggests a particular scene but seems to summarize an entire film, in a very specific manner, and yet divulges so little.” (cited in Metropolis M., Vol. 16, No. 1, February 1995, pp. 40-43) Doig’s work shares with Hopper's that same filmic dream-like quality. Doig’s preference for landscapes, his distinctive use of colour and his concern for painterly detail all assert his extreme gratification in the act of painting, and at the same time an individual resistance to become embroiled in the current debate on painting.
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