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Welcome to DoigWorld

Review by Corinna Lotz

Uncertainty, opacity, and faux-naiveté - the world as felt rather than understood.  Such is DoigWorld. And perhaps that explains the artist’s current popularity at a time when mood and sensation count for so much.

Doig has remarked that the £5.7m price tag attached to one of his paintings sold last year by Charles Saatchi made him feel “nauseous sick”.  It was very hard for him to make a connection with that kind of money “and anything I ever did”.

Perhaps it is exactly such an unnerving dislocation between those who make material objects and their circulation through dizzying transactions of the art market that makes it hard to distinguish the real from the unreal. Doig’s sense of disconnection is shared by most in an age where trillions of dollars whizz through cyberspace. No wonder his often alienated, sometimes jokey or surreal world has hit a raw nerve.

Doig Swamped
Swamped 1990
Courtesy Victoria Miro © Peter Doig
Oil on canvas 197 x 241cm

In DoigWorld, water, trees, fields, sky, clouds intermingle and interweave. In Milky Way the stars exist in the sky as well as underfoot. Trees have childish personalities. The waterworld of Swamped is as solid as the forest around it. He chooses locations, which have become haunted symbols, like Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation apartment block in France. Or scenes from horror films.

Doig Concrete Cabin
Concrete Cabin 1991/2
© The Artist. Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Oil on canvas 200 x 240 cm

Doig Reflection
Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?) 1996
Private Collection © Peter Doig
Photo: image courtesy Victoria Miro

Loneliness, abandonment, a harsh world where the individual is lost – sometimes in reverie, sometimes in fear. Perhaps not so strangely, considering Doig’s Canadian childhood, the mood is very close to the haunted view of American landscape to be found in the archetypal US artists like Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Here, as in Wyeth, there are windswept homesteads and anxious, yearning characters. But in place of Wyeth and Hopper’s sober, considered naturalism, Doig loves to tease the eye, often forcing it back to the surface of the paint, a host of contradictory messages all rolled into one painting.

Such is Country Rock, where a tunnel along a motorway looks like a gigantic rainbow coloured eyeball. In Metropolitan (House of Pictures), a man, half-clown, half-critic, inspects a group of suspended green rectangles, where the artist has blanked out his own images, and given precedence to a child-like landscape scene.

He is capable of making canvases of ravishing beauty. The lush, often congealed brushwork of Swamped, Reflection (What does your soul look like?) for example, made in the 1990s, describes and evokes simultaneously.  The colours are powerful. The paint is set down as if woven like a tapestry, with many layers of fluid depth.

His more recent Grand Rivière and Music of the Future, inspired by his move to Trinidad in 2002, bring together Gauguin and Rousseau’s unspoiled dream worlds with a languid rhythm that is Doig’s own.

Peter Doig Music of the Future
Music of the Future 2002-07, Oil on Linen 200 x 330 © The Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London

A group of large canvases with watery Caribbean views made in the last couple of years are displayed in the final two spaces of this large exhibition. They have an uneasy feeling of disintegration and dissolution. He uses oil on linen in layered gauze fogs. Hallucinogenic feelings of nausea pervade, like a drug-induced haze. So the show ends, not with a bang but a whimper. I hope success hasn’t gone to his head.

4 February 2008

Peter Doig is at Tate Britain until April 27. Open daily. Admission £8/£6/£7. Catalogue edited by Judith Nesbitt £16.99

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