Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 15th 2013 Contents B3
Thursday, August 15, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
"I really don t know what my
paintings are about," says the
visionary British artist Peter Doig.
"And I don t want to. I don t see
the point. If I analyse them, I
wouldn t make them. There has
to be an unknown element to be
We are sitting in the Scottish
National Gallery, where an impor-
tant retrospective of Doig s work
opened as part of the Edinburgh
Art Festival earlier this month.
Looking at the large paintings that
surround us, it is clear that Doig,
who was nominated for the Turner
Prize in 1994 and has exhibited all
over the world from Chicago to
Paris, relishes voyaging into the
Take two of his most famous
pictures, Pelican (Stag) (2003) and
Pelican (2004), which are hanging
to our right. In both canvases a
bare-chested man wearing white
swimwear or some sort of loincloth
walks beneath quivering palm
fronds by the edge of the sea. In
the earlier picture, he is illuminated
by a column of blue, offsetting the
purples and indigos of the fath-
omless twilit forest beyond.
The other painting is saturated
with daylight, but this time the
man, who appears further away
and more indistinct, even ghostly,
is carrying a limp-necked bird --
presumably the pelican of the title.
Who is this furtive figure? Is he
tramping through a tropical par-
adise or somewhere more sinister?
Has he killed the bird? Certainly,
there is something shadowy and
unsettling about both pictures --
as though the man has committed
a primal crime and is about to be
punished. He has the guilty air of
Coleridge s bright-eyed ancient
mariner, who shot an albatross
with a crossbow. Perhaps he rep-
resents mankind s cruelty towards
nature. Or maybe he s just a beach-
comber, who has chanced upon
an evening meal. We can t be
sure---but the mystery lends the
In fact, they were inspired by
the memory of an incident that
Doig witnessed on a remote beach
on the Caribbean island of
Trinidad, where he has lived since
2002: one day, the artist spotted
a local man bobbing about in the
sea with a pelican, which he lured
onto land before wringing its neck.
The Scottish National Gallery
exhibition, which is called No For-
eign Lands and will travel to the
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
next year, showcases paintings pro-
duced by Doig in Trinidad. Most
of them have a similarly disturbing
effect, and are steeped in the cli-
mate and folklore of the island that
has become his home.
"I lived in Trinidad as a child,"
explains Doig, who was born in
Edinburgh in 1959, but, thanks to
his father s job at a shipping com-
pany, moved frequently in his early
years---leaving Trinidad for Canada
when he was seven, before training
in London. "When I returned, I
hadn t been there in 33 years. I
was invited to do a residency in
an art centre. And I just felt so
welcome that I decided to stay."
During the 90s, when his
homely yet psychedelic paintings
of buildings and boats drifting on
lakes caught the attention of deal-
ers and critics, Doig s canvases
were thickly encrusted with
paint---he once said that he wanted
to make their surfaces "slightly
repellent". Since moving to
Trinidad, though, he has generally
favoured a thinner, gauzier
approach---as if the sticky air there
causes the paint to drip and fade
into its support. Does he think that
the island has had an impact upon his paintings?
"It certainly has," he says. "Even
though I live in an urban setting, I m
very close to nature---and the nature
of Trinidad is quite wild. It s a densely
forested and mountainous island, and
within that there are lots of subjects."
This is evident throughout the Edin-
burgh exhibition, from his earliest
Trinidad pictures, such as Grand Riviere
(2001-02), a swampy scene in which
rampant foliage threatens to overwhelm
a small boat and white horse in the
foreground, to more recent work like
Untitled (Jungle Painting) (2007), which
features a well-endowed figure emerg-
ing from the gloom of a primeval forest.
Other paintings, including the creepy
apparition in Man Dressed as Bat
(2007), also invoke the natural world.
"That was based on a famous carnival
character," Doig says. "It s much closer
to the folklore of Trinidad."
According to Doig, Untitled (Jungle
Painting) was "meant to be a foreigner
going native". Invariably the artist, him-
self a foreigner who has gone native
in Trinidad, is compared with Gauguin,
the French former stockbroker who
fled his homeland and settled in Tahiti,
where he painted a series of master-
pieces. With their dark outlines sep-
arating fields of vivid colour, many of
Doig s pictures owe an obvious stylistic
debt to his Post-Impressionist pred-
"I have made a number of paintings
that are Gauguin-esque, but only in
jest really," he explains. "If an artist
goes to work in the tropics, there s
always a comparison made with Gau-
guin." Does he find that annoying? "It s
a compliment, surely."
These days, Doig makes headlines
for the prices achieved by his paintings
at auction as much as for the pictures
themselves. In 2007, his painting White
Canoe sold at Sotheby s for US$9 mil-
lion -- then a record for a living Euro-
pean artist. How does he feel about
being able to create paintings worth
millions of pounds?
"I try not to think about it," he
replies, "especially when I m making
something. Then I m thinking about
the challenge of how to make a paint-
ing. I don t think there s any value to
a painting when it s in the studio. Did
Matisse or Lucian Freud think about
the value of their work? I don t think
they did. But when a painting leaves
the studio door, it enters another world
and becomes part of a market."
In the past, though, Doig has said
that what people pay for his work can
make him feel sick. "Well, of course,
it seems to be crazy money," he says.
"But it s out of my hands, and it s an
open market. It is an auction after all."
When it comes to actually producing
his paintings, which are often inspired
by photographs, Doig craves privacy.
"I need to be on my own," he says,
"and to disappear into my studio. Oth-
erwise I would never get anything
done." Often he will work on a picture
over many years. "I tend to start things
and then leave them when I get stuck
before returning to them," he explains.
"Sometimes that process takes five
years or even longer. The minimum is
probably a couple of years."
---Peter Doig was speaking to art
critic Alastair Sooke. (BBC)
Peter Doig's 2004 painting Pelican.
Scottish-born artist Peter Doig
who lives and works in Trinidad.
PHOTO COURTESY WIKIPEDIA
Peter Doig: A voyage into the unknown
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