- Peter Doig
- The Architect's Home in the Ravine
- signed, titled, and dated 1991 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 78 3/4 x 108 1/4 in. 200 x 275 cm.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel Artist Award: Peter Doig, 1991
Bremen, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Peter Doig: Homely, 1996, illustrated in color
Adrian Searle, Kitty Scott and Catherine Grenier, eds., Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 76, illustrated in color
One of the defining characteristics of Peter Doig's celebrated approach to painting is his ability to harmoniously marry image and process, deftly creating a tension between the subject of a painting and the abstract possibilities of the medium. Nowhere is this better accomplished than in Architect's Home in the Ravine. Executed in 1991, this is an early masterpiece that belongs to a small group of seminal paintings made when Doig, a recent Masters graduate from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, was awarded the prestigious Whitechapel Artist Prize, culminating in a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery that same year. The prospect of such a major institutional show at such a formative stage in his career spurred an epiphanic period of creativity in which Doig produced a small number of large canvases which he now sees as the thematic matrix for his subsequent oeuvre. Exhibited alongside other key works, including Swamped and Iron Hill, Architect's Home in the Ravine is a monumental canvas that takes as its source image a Modernist structure and is the precursor to one of Doig's best-known and fullest series depicting the iconic work of architect Le Corbusier. In Doig’s hands, the view through the densely tangled undergrowth onto the building is transformed into a dramatic pretext for a post-modernist exploration of the painted surface.
Undoubtedly, the superlative scale and epic grandeur of Architect's Home in the Ravine engages with the grand tradition of landscape painting, recalling the empty and sublime vistas of Caspar David Friedrich, the Expressionist landscapes of Edvard Munch and Gustave Klimt, as well as the vast abstracted surfaces of Monet's water lilies painted at Giverny towards the end of his life. Ideologically distancing himself from the nascent vogue for detached, process-based conceptual art that was emanating from the London art schools at the time, Doig boldly reinvented and reinvigorated this most traditional of genres. Returning to the German Romantic dichotomy between Man and Nature, Doig, like Friedrich before him, shows mankind's increment on the landscape dwarfed by mighty nature. "I have made relatively few straight landscapes that didn't have any architecture, and I always wanted a landscape to be humanised by a person or a building, at least something that suggests habitation" (The artist cited by Kitty Scott in Phaidon, Ed., Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 16). In the present work, the building with its myriad windows, balconies and a collage of colourful tiles decorating its façade, stands for more than habitation alone: it is the symbol of a utopian ideal of societal living, a monument to engineering and ingenuity, a paragon of cultivated aesthetics and taste. Modernist architecture's bold vision was the talisman of a brave new urban world. Instead of optimism, however, Doig here presents an image of abandonment and creeping desuetude at odds with Modernism’s ideal: the rectilinear, architectural lines are all but consumed by the encroaching organic riot of frosted foliage, a poignant reminder of the futility of man's endeavours in the face of indomitable nature.
In Architect's Home in the Ravine, we see one of Doig's most successful early explorations of a formal device that has become his trademark mode of painting and has been employed in numerous later compositions: rather than being presented with a clear perspective over the Brutalist structure, the viewer peers through a tangled web of snow-laden twigs and branches that entwine to create a visual curtain in the immediate foreground. This intricate lattice of abstracted garlands has an astounding visual impact, effectively meshing together foreground and background in a complex matrix of colour. Hovering between abstraction and representation, Doig's compression of space conflates surface and depth, distance and proximity, materiality and illusion. As the eye struggles to reconstruct the three-dimensional illusionistic space of the landscape through the thickets, the rich tapestry of textural diversity in the foreground insistently returns us to the real planar space of the painting's surface. Looping skeins of paint, curdled like Pollockian drips, veil the composition in a wilful rejection of repoussoir effect and perspectival recession, forcing the viewer to consider the work in purely abstract terms. Acutely aware of his artistic heritage, Doig condenses in the painting's surface a post-modern accumulation of techniques which references canonical abstraction from Claude Monet to Gerhard Richter. At once a parody and homage to earlier abstract movements, Doig harnesses the techniques of abstraction in a figurative mode, uniquely reconfiguring his referents in a wholly new breed of painting for which Architect's Home in the Ravine is the manifest epitome.