Peter Doig (1959 –

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

I’ve spent the last few days listening to some new music, thinking whilst Kate Tempest & Akira Kosemura knock it out of their respective parks, about variances between painting & music. How music feels personally much more about the excitement of the unseen whole and the potential for its completion. A new song is one heard new in so many ways, each return finding new ideas creeping out from the woodwork & its fretboard.

Painting is more immediate, there’s less to catch in a sense. Songs are chases, lyrics and choruses hanging ephemera that soon becomes something else entirely. Yet there is an odd paradox within painting, that whatever is portrayed on the canvas, from the minimal stillness of today’s artist, Peter Doig, to the bombastic war zones of Eugène Delacroix, everything contained within is in status and up for scrutiny. Ironically meaning that the greatest literal action possible on a canvas is paint drying.

Picking the two paintings today for Peter Doig was tough as the incredibly accomplished artist (His 2007 work White Canoe selling at Sothebys for a then European living record of $11.3 million) has a style so wild and varied. I begin with a piece I saw at this year’s excellent John Moores Painting Prize, which showcased ‘Blotter’ as a past 1993 winner in its archives, following on from its sombre affections to a later piece of Doig’s, ‘White Canoe’.

‘Blotter’ – 1993

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The bottom half of this work is so intensely captivating that at first we fail to see that the trees and bracken landscape high above the slope, are about as lifelike as the reflected life the boy ponders beneath him. An easy mistake to make however considering the entrancing perplexity of the narrative on display. Doig’s far off capture of contemplation showing both the boy reflective of his own image and thoughts, but also reflective of ourselves as we too scour the meditative image before us.

We’re watching him watch himself, which gifts an odd intimacy. ‘Blotter’ seems aware of this, referring within its title both to, as Doig put it, ‘the notion of being absorbed into a place, but also to the process through which the painting developed: soaking paint into the canvas’.

There is exquisite skill throughout; the water forming a delicate swirl of distortions, masterfully mixing both the reflections themselves from elsewhere in the image, as well as the moments in which these echoes intersperse and spill. The very weather of the scene is dealt with equally well, small nicks and white thumbing against the frame suggesting old reel footage, evoking a place out of time.

Logic reigns in the ordering of the presentation here, with everything coming across horizontal in bands of colour. The boy skewered between two certainties amid his contemplation. The lower portion featuring the exuberance of another life, the higher middle a jagged depthless quality to a reality of ours.

‘White Canoe’ – 1997

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The suggestion of voyeurism is magnified by the inclusion of a fence looking out to the warm sticky water. Colours hang and languish lazy, a landscape uncomplicated by detail in which the hand of man passively glides through rather than engages and changes.  From our privy view behind the bank the real barrier of the wild stands staunch and celebratory.

There could potentially be a disturbing visage here, the passive passed out passenger keeled over and taken forward on the water’s momentum alone. But with its inverted colours and out of place photorealist canoe, it becomes more an opportunity to imagine places like this that are so free normally of human gaze. The symbolic pioneering canoe confidently exploring amid the barren landscape of nowhere in particular.

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Recent article on 2014 John Moores Painting Prize entries, a competition Doig won in 1993 with ‘Blotter’.

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