Peter Doig in conversation with Keith Hartley.

I was interesting in taking a look at Peter Doigs work with regard to his being a contemporary painter and making works which feature a landscape, as this is what I am considering for my major project. He currently has an exhibition in Edinburgh and I came across this conversation on the National Galleries Scotland website. What became apparent very quickly is that whilst many of his paintings are set in the landscape their focus often is a person or people he has met or just seen that have made an impression on him for one reason or another. In relation to the work I am planning this made me think of some of the people I have met whilst taking walks on the Levels- the Man I met by the bridge just after the floods and the women walking her Norwegian Wolf Hounds, with big yellow eyes. I hadn’t thought that my work would include figures, but I shall continue to ponder on this for now.

I found the conversation very illuminating, previously only having a brief knowledge of his works. He spoke of Barbados and Chris Ofilli, the way he remembered the Caribbean from a spell living there until he was 7yrs old- through visual memory, through smells, photos and music. The discussion went through painting by painting, talking about what his thoughts and inspirations were for each. Although there is often a figure as a focal point it is very rare for the painting to be a straight representation of something he has seen. He described the Man with the Pink Umbrella as a rare occasion when he had snapped a photo in haste and it gave him a composition that he was happy with. Normally his compositions are an amalgamation of ideas and images coming together. He described an uncomfortable occasion when he witnessed a man wrestling with a Pelican in the sea; it made an impression. That stayed in his memory until he found an archive of old hand tinted postcards from Southern Indian and a Man hauling in a fishing net that reminded him of the incident.

It was interesting to hear him speak about his working methods too and in particular the importance of photographs, sometimes his own but also found images. He also spoke of the manipulating of photos and making stencils from them, often to capture a particular shape or silhouette. I was also interested to hear him speak of using washes as it is something I have also thought about in relation to my major project- the idea of using a very fluid medium in relation to the watery landscape of the Levels. Keith Hartley points out that in many works the drips are going both up and down the canvas; Doig often rotates the canvas as he works.

There were many references to artists and paintings that have been an inspiration to him, like Matisse’s ‘Bather with a turtle’ 1907-8 where he spoke about lack of narrative, and the bands of colour- the picture planes, and the ambiguity that interested him, and that there was very little detail apart from in the turtle. He described aspects translated into his work, like an island in his painting being like the turtle in Matisse’s. He also mentioned Bonnard’s work ‘The Sailing Excursion’ 1924-5 with the family in the foreground and much of the work taken up by a huge white sail. He was interested in the graduation of colours, but also how the quite small area of water some how brought all the elements together and animated the work. Other artist referred to included Gauguin, Whistler, Van Gogh, and Friedric Casper David.

This conversation has made me think about various aspects for my major project, in particular the inclusion of figures and ideas around a watery landscape, in fact it is apparent that many of Doig’s works feature water and reflections in water which is also something I have been looking at. Food for thought.

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