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Peter Doig Study Day

NGS_DOIG_Homepage_Graphic_470x664pxI have long been an admirer of Peter Doig as a painter and having seen him discussing his work recently I was very pleased to be able to visit his Edinburgh show with a group of OCA students.
The premise of the show is to reinforce the conceptual and art historical influences on his work, and so the paintings are hung in concept rooms rather than chronologically. Of course Doig’s interests shifted over time to an extent and so there was an element of chronology too, but it was interesting to see how often ideas were reprised, and certain imagery drifted into view across the decades.
As a study group we discussed his attitude to his subject matter which ranges from the purely formal, to an apparent alignment with late 19th century artists and their engagement with society and modernity. He references Daumier directly, and has spoken of his love for the formal dexterity of Matisse, but it seems to me there is something going on here around 19th century cafe culture and responsiveness to modernity. His regular hand painted film posters are of course reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, and throughout his awkward ‘dishonest honesty’ has more than a touch of Manet.
Doig’s mastery is in his handling of paint. It is something that he has explored vigorously and he would make an excellent job of the initial mark making exercises on the level 1 painting and drawing courses. This is hard to see in reproduction, but in the gallery it is possible to notice layers of paint and elements which pictorially stand out being made by layers of paint which are actually 5 layers below the surface. Apparently intricate tracery is revealed to be the splatters of a flicked brush overlaid with the drippings of a turpsy rag.
We discussed the impact of Doig’s superstar status on his quite private and personal relationship with paint. He now has studios in Trinidad and New York, a team of helpers and a professorship in Dusseldorf as well as two small children. Many students struggle with time management and so we were very struck by how far art world success had removed Doig from his own work in some ways.
Overall, we were inspired and heartened by the show which was painterly, celebratory and easy to love, by an artist who seems happy in his skin and to take genuine pleasure in the process of painting. Personally I find his work inspiring because it is ball park achievable. In my opinion, he doesn’t have the brilliance with colour of De Kooning or the mastery of rhythm of Matisse; he’s not a genius but he is a happy grafter – something I would be proud to achieve.
The show runs until 3rd November so there is still a few days to catch it at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.


Posted by author: Emma Drye
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3 thoughts on “Peter Doig Study Day

  • One thing that came up in the discussion was that several students said they were not expecting to enjoy the exhibition, but came along with an open mind. These ‘doubters’ came away pleasantly surprised. You need to actually see Peter Doig’s paintings- reproduction just does not do them justice. This is partly due to the techniques used, as Emma points out, but also due to their large scale. The RSA building, with its cornices and arches was a great venue to display them. Wandering from room to room revealed old favourites (ones that I had seen at his Tate exhibition in 2007) and new surprises.

  • Sue, I enjoyed reading your blog. You have gone into great detail about the techniques you observed. i like what you said about our guide, Duncan, saying that many people want to rush home and paint after seeing the exhibition. This definitely happened to me six years ago when I saw his exhibition at the Tate. I felt that it gave me permission to be a little more crazy with the paint. Seeing some of them again, as well as new work, in Edinburgh has reinforced that view.

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