Just saw Peter Doig’s exhibition at Michael Werner. I had high expectations and they were exceeded. However, I’m feeling like an idiot as I wasn’t quite sure why I wasn’t liking the painting I’m currently working on… Duh! There’s no variety in my mark-making. It’s boring. I’ve been too focused on content and working quickly at the expense of technique.
Here are my notes from just two of Doig’s paintings describing the different mark-making techniques and stark contrasts I saw:
scratch into, use ruler, bare canvas, stencil, scrape off, brush, show marks, hard edges, blendy, cutting, layering, different grounds, impasto, thin wash, lumpy, thick, poster-like, pallet knife, pentimenti, washes, bleeds, outlines, splodge, straight from tube, drips, geometric, transparent
- Matt vs. shiny
- Straight edge vs. blended
- Transparent vs. opaque
- Realistic vs. non-realistic
- Purple/yellow, orange/blue, green/pink
- Stillness vs. movement
- Thin vs. lumpy
- Massive field of colour vs. tiny detail (serpent’s tongue)
- Wonky drawing vs. precise drawing
- Mixed colour vs. pure black and white
I guess the potential downside of too much variety is that the painting looks like a jumble sale and is too busy. Doig’s Two Trees comes close to this, but manages to pull it off because some of the most audacious marks are balanced within the composition – for example the jellybean-like camo jumper with the loud harlequin shirt. The whole show isn’t a total success and the lion painting room (Rain in the Port of Spain (White Oak)) left me cold, though it was good to see all the preliminary sketches and studies.
So what to do about my crappy painting? There’s not much of a chance of sorting it out before the interim show, but then again maybe I could do a Doig and not sleep for six nights while trying to finish it during the install… There’s a great article in the New Yorker (below) that describes the ‘ferocious trance’ he goes into while finishing a painting. The thick impasto hair he was working on is still totally wet (according to the chap at the gallery – I didn’t touch it), and it managed to make it from New York to London without getting smudged.
images are details from Red Man (Plays Calypso) and Two Trees (also featured image)