THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Like a still from a cinematic plot to which we have no access, House of Pictures invokes a sense of nostalgia which lies just beyond the boundaries of specific memory. Suffused with an intangible allure as a forgotten dream, the painting suggests narrative without providing context, drawing the viewer irresistibly into the myriad web of sensorial and visual allusions depicted within. As is archetypal of Doig’s practice, the captivating scene of House of Pictures is informed by a unique mixture of the artist’s personal memories and found imagery. The sweeping façade depicted in House of Pictures is, in fact, based upon an image of a once-operating art establishment: Haus der Bilder Margarete Klewan, an art gallery in Vienna that Doig discovered years earlier. Drawn to the elaborately decorative shapes of the lettering and the distinct implications of the building’s label, Doig photographed the façade upon first encountering the building, storing the image away for an unknown later use. While the mood of the painting is undeniably dreamlike, Doig’s reliance on photographic source material anchors the atmospheric dreamscape in the mimetic world, an effect the artist’s describes as being “hinged in reality, hinged in a believeableness.” (The artist cited in Robert Enright, “The Eye of the Painting: An Interview with Peter Doig,” BorderCrossings 98, June 2006) Considered within the artist’s oeuvre, the strong, dark rectangles of Haus der Bilder’s windows, breaking the glowing green façade into neat, concise intervals, are eerily reminiscent of Doig’s earlier Canadian paintings; one critic describes, “Some memory seems to have been aroused in Doig and, perceiving a visual assonance (and psychological symmetry), he was intrigued enough to take a photograph. Similar things happen to us all, but visual artists tend to be particularly sensitive to visual memory. It is one of the things that gives coherence and meaning to their world and, through their painting, to ours as well.” (Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, 2013, p. 66) While alluding to his visual source material, however, Doig avoids direct mimesis: the pattern of architectural bays and wide, rectangular windows, above which elaborately decorative lettering spells out ‘HAUS DER BILDER,’ is slightly irregular, differing from the unvaried forms of the original Viennese establishment. Reflecting upon the virtuosic dexterity with which the artist fuses distinct graphic inferences in House of Pictures, Richard Shiff reflects: “Consider Doig a master of paronymy, of instances of imperfect resemblance: resemblance in part.” (Richard Shiff and Catherine Lampert, Peter Doig, New York, 2016, p. 313) Invoking the same jarring dissonance as déjà vu in an unfamiliar locale, Doig invites the viewer to consider the status of the space and moment within his painting, leaving us to wonder if they exist in private or public realms, in personal or shared experience—if they exist at all.
Testifying to Doig’s mastery of pictorial memory, the bewitching figure huddled before the House of Pictures stands at once within and outside of art history, observing the fraught legacy of canonical tradition as much as he engages it. Cloaked in strange and unfamiliar garb that reveals only a tangled mane of red hair, the figure stands apart from time, equally capable of invoking a contemporary urban wayfarer or the somber silhouette of the nineteenth century flâneur. In truth, Doig’s figure is based upon a figure the artist saw several years after his original encounter with the Viennese Haus; standing outside a restaurant in Vancouver, the artist saw an Aboriginal man clad in black leather, rummaging in his pockets for his keys and was immediately so drawn to his appearance that he took a photograph, again for later use. Doig reflects, “It was the body position that I liked…He’s in that moment of reflection. I was definitely interested in his body language and how it suggested that he was lost in thought.” (The artist cited in Robert Enright, “The Eye of the Painting: An Interview with Peter Doig, “BorderCrossings 98, June 2006) While the original figure was dark-haired, Doig transformed his character with Munch-like tresses of fiery red hair, situating the scene closer to the European origin of the Haus itself. In his absorbed stance, seemingly entranced by the fictive space beyond the glass, the figure invokes the contemplative posture of Honoré Daumier’s L’amateur d’estampes (The Print Collector) of 1863, a painting Doig encountered firsthand at the Art Institute of Chicago. While Doig would go on to directly insert Daumier’s figure in the paintings of his later Metropolitan series, here, he incorporates only the meditative, solitary stance, intent upon the project of looking. As is emblematic of Doig’s optical alchemy, the figure in the present work is equally indebted to Edouard Manet’s Buveur d’absinthe (Absinthe Drinker) of 1858, in which Daumier’s aesthete is transformed into a doleful inebriate, cloaked and huddled on his roadside perch. Far from mere art historical citation, Doig’s graceful transport and metamorphosis of the shared figure in House of Pictures is an eloquent illustration of his understanding of painting as a process of perpetual return and recreation: like Manet and Daumier, Doig is interested, not in the specifics of an image, but in the creation of a highly specific atmosphere. One scholar describes, “As in experimental lyric poetry, elements are dissolved from their original contexts and endowed with novel meanings and perceptions via reconfigurations, Doig’s procedures—which involve the collaging and superposition of preexisting images—lead to unpredictable outcomes.” (Exh. Cat., Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne, Peter Doig: Metropolitan, 2004, p., 80)
In its potent balance of formal structure and luminous hue, House of Pictures serves as an exquisite demonstration of Doig’s deft painterly abilities. Awash in the saturated intensity of the green façade and red ground, tempered by modulated washes of inky blue and jewel-like flecks of gold, the present work achieves the chromatic and synesthetic intensity of a formative memory. Describing his approach to color, Doig reflects: “I often use heightened colors to create a sense of the experience or mood or feeling of being there, but it’s not a scientific process. I think the paintings always refer back to a reality that we all have experience of. We have all seen incredible sunsets…I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting.” (Richard Shiff and Catherine Lampert, Peter Doig, New York, 2016, p. 316) Divided into three primary horizontal registers by the building’s façade, signage, and the ground below, Doig’s delicately modulated washes of color invoke something of Barnett Newman’s iconic zip paintings; speaking about the American master’s work, Doig observed: “I did like the idea that maybe these sections which had been opened up to reveal a strip of existence could just as easily close down again.” (Peter Doig cited in Paul Bonaventura, ‘Peter Doig: A Hunter in the Snow’, Artefactum, No. 9, 1994, p. 14) This sense of ephemeral, internal depths is counterbalanced by an overall flattening of the scene, placing an emphasis on the illusion of pictorial space reminiscent of the general example of such Post-Impressionists as Manet, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Matisse. In the streamlined planes and forms of the present work, simplified to a point which teeters upon the border of abstraction, Doig pays particular homage to Matisse, invoking such masterworks as French Window at Collioure, 1914, and Bathers with Turtle, 1908; indeed, upon viewing the latter of these for the first time at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2000—the same year he began the present work—Doig described the balance of abstraction and figuration in Bathers with Turtle as one of the most extraordinary paintings he had ever seen. One scholar reflects, “Doig [is] carefully positioning himself in the long line of artists who helped establish and develop the modernist tradition of painting, from artists such as Daumier, through Matisse, and then to the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. In particular, in works such as 100 Years Ago, House of Pictures, and Metropolitan, Doig is developing ways of using geometrical structures and seeing how they can fit into a figurative framework.” (Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, 2013, p. 78) Describing the inspiration behind a series of paintings titled 100 Years Ago, created concurrently to House of Pictures, the artist himself notes: “That is our language. So much has happened with painting in the last 100 years that one can profit from and take as nourishment from as a painter. Acknowledging that is extremely important.” (Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, 2013, p. 61)
Indeed, despite the mesmerizing grace with which Doig weaves the myriad sensorial and visual allusions which make up House of Pictures, the luminous significance of the present work is, ultimately, achieved by the placement of paint upon canvas. Remarking upon true achievement of Doig’s oeuvre, one scholar reflects: “As a matter of course, Doig’s work displays a resolute, unwavering faith in the medium of panting. Free of compulsions to provide justifications, of pressures to engage in argumentation, this attitude expresses a contemporary sensibility, a consciousness that inscribes the past—and implicitly, nostalgia and sentiment as well—into the image as a perpetually renewed process.” (Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, 2013, p. 80) Surveying the past — both personal and shared—as pensively as the figure in House of Pictures, Doig reflects his own project back upon the viewer, encouraging us to consider the importance of deeply looking and considering the significance of the image before us. Amongst the most captivating realizations of Doig’s artistic project, the potent allure of House of Pictures is perhaps best described by the artist’s own account: “My paintings were a way of looking at the world, not through the eyes of a painter, but through the eyes of painting.” (The artist cited in Robert Enright, “The Eye of the Painting: An Interview with Peter Doig, “BorderCrossings 98, June 2006)
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