The other week as a part of our writing workshop Brian took us to the Michael Werner Gallery in Mayfair to see Peter Doigs exhibition of new work. Initially when we got told we were going here I really didn’t want too, I remember our tutor making us read and write about his work when I was 18 doing a porfolio preparation course in Scotland. I’ve never been a fan of YBA conceptualism as i’ve always found it way over rated. Having said that what I found most interesting in the show was the difference between the works, many are detailed and others less so.
The first painting you see when you walk into the gallery is a portrait of Emheyo Bahabba, the late Trinidadian artist and studio-mate of Doig’s while they both worked in Port of Spain in Trinidad. The painting, I do not sing because I am happy. I sing the song because it is about happiness. Embah (2017) shows Bahabba wearing a bright blue shirt, a brown jacket with red pinstripes, and a white cowboy hat. The man plucks a ukulele, seemingly mid-strum. Behind him is a tropical-looking hill underneath a night sky.
What I like about this painting is the unnatural, unearthly light. Doig’s use of thin layers of what I can see is turpentine-diluted paint. It achieves this translucent layer and a complex surface. The pinstripes of Embah’s jacket are scraped away revealing underlayers of colour, from deep red at the shoulders to light blue and yellow near the hem. The same scraping effect was used to draw the ukulele strings, which I really liked. The figure’s skin, on his face and hands, is translucent and opaque. The things that drew me to this piece is combination of diluted and scraped paint giving the figure a sickly, almost disease-ridden flesh and a face that’s hard to look away from.
The paintings in this room vary significantly in scale. My favourite was the room downstairs filled with various sized paintings and drawings. The walls are crowded and hung in a salon-like fashion. I found these works more successful because of their experimental, not fully thought through quality, which for me endowed them with a greater sense of mystery which Doig seems to strive.
Fern O’ Carolan