- Peter Doig
signed, titled and dated March/April/May 1990 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 78 3/4 x 98 1/2 in. 200 x 250 cm.
Private Collection, Oslo (acquired from the above circa 1995)
Sotheby's, London, June 25, 2003, Lot 7
Private Collection, London
Sotheby's, London, October 12, 2007, Lot 11
Acquired by the present owner from the above
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A sublime coalescence of timeless narrative, colorful abstraction and art historical reverence, Peter Doig's Grasshopper is an early example of the artist's unsurpassed, nuanced approach to painting. Characteristically for Doig, the painting's lack of context has the end result of palpable ambiguity; it is equally plausible the farmstead portrayed at the center of the work was rendered from the imagination, inspired by a memory or perhaps appropriated from a found picture. Indeed, in Grasshopper, nothing is for certain except, of course, for the sense of wonder the painting induces in its viewer.
In a 2007 conversation with artist Chris Ofili, Doig addressed the uncertainty of his subjects when he explained, "I don't think the present day is a very important thing to depict. And you don't want to make a nostalgic painting about another time that's not totally tangible. Painting becomes interesting when it becomes timeless." (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Peter Doig, 2008, p. 113). Decisively detached from a specific time period and location, Grasshopper's pastoral scene retains this sense of vagueness consequent of its dearth of detailing in the trees, manmade structures and surrounding landscape - even the small figure in the far right of the composition is depicted in a loose, organic manner. In this way, the work expresses a subtle and poetic appreciation for the shapes and formations that compose everyday life.
Doig's attention to the wonders of existence is furthered by the horizontal division of the scene: the bottom third of the painting depicts humanity's foundation - the colorful geological strata of the earth - while the upper portion of the piece conveys the vastness of the sky, in this case through an expressive treatment of vivid blue.
Rendered in 1990, Grasshopper was painted at a formative moment in Doig's artistic career. His childhood had been extremely transient, but as a young adult, he returned to London on his own accord and enrolled in a master's painting program in 1989. The artist's unique perspective and compelling images quickly earned him initial recognition, and by 1994, he was nominated for the prestigious Turner prize. The critical praise, however, often oversimplified the paintings, understanding them only as straightforward depictions of the artist's past experiences in Canada. Doig has since clarified, "They weren't paintings of Canada (though some were) but paintings of an idea of something that was maybe folk - bringing a sort of 'homeliness' into art."(Ibid., p. 11).
Doig's infusion of folk subject into High art painting is further complicated and enriched by references his work makes to some of the most important painters of the 20th century. Grasshopper, for instance, evokes Edward Hopper's Railroad Sunset: like Hopper's painting, Grasshopper features a rich array of warm colors, a placeless setting sun, striking shadows and lonely structures. In Doig's work, however, the sunset scenario is restricted (as opposed to free and celebratory in Hopper's estimation), as the activated space is limited to the middle of the painting. In this way, the painting further calls to mind the panorama of a film strip, and one might be reminded of movies including Paris, Texas and Giant, among other Western films and iconic imagery of desolate plains, towns and homesteads.
By means of interwoven references, emotive color choices, gestural paint application and humanist images, Doig delivers a compelling and completely intriguing painting. When Doig entered the artistic arena in the early 1990s, painting had largely been surpassed by new mediums such as video and photography, particularly because they held the potential to affect social and political change. The choice to focus on painting at the time was hence considered frivolous and romantic, but Doig's romanticism is sensitive and thoughtful, forever reminding society of the inherent power of painting.