Peter Doig’s paintings are variously described as uneasy, enigmatic and dreamlike. At once nostalgic and contemporary, they speak of memory and the endurance of images. Atmospheric and melancholic, Doig’s paintings capture seemingly inconsequential moments that are somehow highly charged.
In the early 1990s Doig began creating works that engaged with skiing and snow motifs, characterising both a sense of fantasy and sentimentality through a painting style which is resolutely figurative. Expressing the effect snow had on the mood and atmosphere of his paintings, Doig stated: “I often paint scenes with snow because snow somehow has this effect of drawing you inwards and is frequently used to suggest retrospection and nostalgia and make-believe” (Peter Doig cited in: Paul Bonaventura, ‘A Hunter in the Snow’, Artefactum, No. 9, 1994, p. 12). This tendency towards the visceral and the fantastic has come to characterise Doig’s most notable and beloved paintings; the present work being a seminal example of the atmospheric mastery he employs.
Testament to Doig’s reputation as an avid student of art history, Untitled takes as its point of departure the painterly aesthetics of modern masters such as Edvard Munch, Paul Gaugin and Pieter Bruegel the Elder among others. In particular, the snowy foreground of Untitled 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 in the alchemy with which he combines these influences into a vocabulary which is unmistakably his.
Painted in 1999, Untitled sits at the apex of Doig’s career, at the very moment that his art was thrust onto the international stage. In 1991 Doig received the Whitechapel Artist Award resulting in solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery of his 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 at the pinnacle of Doig’s critical acclaim, Untitled is an exceptional combination of the complex artistic devices and breath-taking atmosphere which have come to characterise the best of Doig.
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