Peter Doig at Michael Verner.
I didn’t like two tress, as much as respected it. It has an aura of menace about it. The reason why became apparent when the gallery manager kindly gave us an introduction to the works in the show and explained it references an incident where two men filmed a man drowning to death. I saw Doig had placed himself in the painting as a kind of heavily armoured ghost, ready but unable to intervene in the violence of the proceeding moment. The sense of drama in the room is intensified by the nature of his preparatory drawings. Pieces of fragile paper are layered, painted, removed and re-established in a seemingly instinctive, unpredictable way. The works as we all know are famous for existing between the conscious and subconscious worlds but I really felt an awareness of God in the paintings upstairs. The figures in Two Trees with their ‘halos’ almost like saints ironically, and the timelessness of nature and landscape adding to the sense of the supernatural. I feel he paints from his subjective experience of the world in Trinidad and mourns the trappings of its colonial past in his lion paintings. He carries Imperialism around like a lead weight in these images. Again there is a tension between spirituality, religion and governance in the lion metaphor. It represents both Rastafarianism and also the British Empire. Ironically it has the power to kill and maim. Its a powerful image. Keeping guard on the prison containing a dark figure. He maybe looks around himself and wonders what it would be like without the racial tensions and threats of violence from past histories. He doesn’t romanticise like Gauguin. Or attempt to portray something ‘beautiful’ about the landscape undoubtedly though it would be. He is more than a white man painting exoticism? Trees have a strong association to people’s souls and appear in both violent (Two Trees) and sentimental ways as in his portraits of Ember, who was obviously a great friend. Doig’s life guard paintings inspired by Robert Micham showing the arrogant ‘red’ man who wouldn’t deign to assist the struggling black man who is being devoured by a snake behind him deliver a different knid of power to the lion image but have z similar intention I feel. Doig seems to move away from painting man in the vastness of wilderness and supernatural forces to depict men struggling against each other mired by greed and selfishness in an atmosphere of violence. In his paintings of Ember he isn’t only mourning the death of his friend but also I feel the loss of a way of life and spirituality perhaps? I see situations where people can’t or won’t intervene to change or stop a situation. The viewer can see the problems but the subjects of the paintings are fixed, stuck in the anxiety unable to change. It’s deeply unnerving. I’m thinking it must be so in Trinidad for Doig. Does Doig feel he is there enjoying the beautiful land but not completely there somehow? His subjects form characters in a play of dualites that is Peter Doig’s ‘outsider’ experiences in Trinidad.
We were talking about Doig’s influences, particularly Francis Picabia’s drawings and Edvard Munch’s paintings. I didn’t take a picture of the drawing of Doig’s partner but it reminded me of a cross between the two monochrome drawings here. I di take an image of the water colour which is sandwiched between the two here. It has elements of both Munch and Picabia for me. I did really see the similarities between Munch’s eyeless, dark socketed figures and the way the figures reside outside themselves bleeding into the landscape that supports them.