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The Schirn Presents a Retrospective of Painter Peter Doig
Peter Doig.

FRANKFURT.-Peter Doig is regarded as one of today’s most crucial and internationally influential artists. Presenting some 50 paintings, a group of works on paper, and about 130 painted film posters, the Schirn offers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s achievements from the past twenty years. Many of the works on display have never been exhibited in Germany. One focus of the show will be on works Doig created in Trinidad within the past five years and on painted posters produced for his cinema project STUDIOFILMCLUB in Port of Spain, Trinidad. On the occasion of the exhibition, Doig will also set up a special STUDIOFILMCLUB in Frankfurt, screening films selected by the artist on Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. between 9 October and 30 November 2008. Although on the one hand Peter Doig’s pictures relate to the history of painting, they are firmly anchored in present-day life on the other. He often uses travel brochures, newspaper images, film stills, or private snapshots as his point of departure. They reflect the changing scenes and social environments in which the artist has lived: the frozen lakes of his childhood in Canada, the dazzling metropolis of London, Caribbean sceneries, and the cityscapes of Trinidad. In his visionary landscapes, whose quiescence seems to be most precarious, memories, biographical moments, popular images, and narrative plots congeal to form dreamlike sequences.

The exhibition Peter Doig is supported by Verein der Freunde der Schirn Kunsthalle e. V.

Born in 1959 in Edinburgh, Peter Doig grew up in Trinidad and Canada. After having lived in London for twenty years, he went back to Trinidad in 2002. From 1980 to 1983, he studied at St. Martin’s School of Art, where he undertook his first forays into figurative painting. In 1986, he temporarily returned to Canada, where he worked as a scene painter for the film industry in Montreal and devoted himself to his own painting in his free time. In 1989, he set out for London once again, where he enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art. This is where the current exhibition and the catalogue begin. It was during the first years following Doig’s return to London that the artist produced numerous works which formed the foundation for his entire future career, as well as his success in the art world, coming rapidly at the time: uncanny landscapes, whose effect is brought about by brilliant oils and an impasto treatment of surfaces. Over the years, Doig’s unmistakable painting style, oscillating between figuration and abstraction, evolved from this very approach. The Schirn Kunsthalle has already honored the artist’s work in two group exhibitions: in Dear Painter, Paint Me… (2003) and Ideal Worlds – New Romanticism in Contemporary Art (2005), works by Peter Doig played a central role.

The current show, compiled in close cooperation with the artist, offers visitors an opportunity for exploring Doig’s complex themes and his development in terms of painting style and technique within a larger context. Works from two decades convey the experience of perpetual scene-shifting that nevertheless leads to ever-recurring locations and situations that seem to be oddly familiar and yet strange at the same time: a boat floating on an autumnal lake, a horse grazing in a paradisiacal bay, the white façade of an apartment block shining through a dark forest. Although these fantastic landscapes are frequently based on real models, the pictures are not about specific places. The motifs are viewed from a distance and through the filter of memory. Whereas in his London studio the artist was painting Canadian winter landscapes, in Canada he was overwhelmed by his memories of London. His constructed landscapes simultaneously merge with images from the vast collective visual memory fed by current media coverage and art history. “People have confused my paintings with being just about my own memories,” says Doig. “Of course we cannot escape these. But I am more interested in the idea of memory.” The artist has often referred to his search for the “atmosphere” of each painting, and already in his early works the importance he attaches to the subject – not as narrative, but as the threshold of the spectator’s individual experience – becomes evident. Hitch Hiker (1989–90) takes the spectator on a truck ride, with all promise of an uncertain adventure. The straight line of the open road is folded into a turbulent sky; the washed green foreground falls away, drained of detail. The nocturnal landscape of Milky Way (1989–90) remains rooted in uncertainty as well. The idea for the painting and the motif of the canoe, which has continued to play a role in the artist’s work to date, derive from a scene in the well-known horror film Friday the 13th.

Many of Doig’s paintings make an uncertain, ambivalent, and contradictory impression. For example, time and again, the structure of the picture denies the space of the represented image. The artist causes color fields to flicker and covers the image with pale, shimmering patches resembling a veil, or else dissects the surface through overlaps of apparently almost abstract motifs. In the Concrete Cabin series (1992), the utopian dream of a modernist home – Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habilitation in Briey-en-Forêt – gets lost in the uncanny thicket of the forest enclosing the building, which was intended to accommodate itinerant workers. The artist deliberately dissolves the hierarchy within the painting, engendering visual disorientation, thus establishing himself as a formalist as much as a representational painter: “Instead of painting the façade of a building and then shrouding it in trees, I would pick the architecture through the foliage, so that the picture would push itself up to your eye. I thought that was a much more real way of looking at things, because that is the way the eye looks: you are constantly looking through things, seeing the foreground and the background at the same time.”

A bizarre aspect is also inherent in the figures in Doig’s paintings. They seem to have sprung from another time, although they frequently depict real people. For example, the dream-like fantasy of Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre (2000–02) shows Doig and an artist friend. Both are wearing fantastic costumes from a production of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrouchka. Like many of Doig’s works, this pair of figures is based on a snapshot taken when Doig was working as a dresser at the English National Opera after finishing his studies. Merging the photograph with a 19th-century postcard resulted in one of the painter’s most surreal apparitions: the artist as a theatrical figure in romantic costume, standing in an enchanted landscape.

In 2000, Doig returned to study in a place he knew from his childhood and which subsequently was to exercise a decisive impact on his art: the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where he eventually moved with his family in 2002. Although Doig has avoided directly referring to Trinidad for his pictorial motifs, the photographs he took there during his first stay reappear in crucial works: Grande Rivière (2001/02), 100 Years Ago (Carrera) (2001), Pelican (2004), and Pelican (Stag) (2004). When he first returned to Trinidad, he felt the landscape to be “so present and powerful.” Trinidad still serves not only as an inspiration for his imagination, but also for new methodical approaches. In such paintings as Figures in Red Boat (2005–07), Pelican Island (2006), or Man Dressed as Bat (2007), color – now marked by a delicate, glazing brilliance – plays an increasingly important part. Today Doig himself speaks of a search for “pure paintings, which evolve into a type of abstraction.”

This exhibition was organized by Tate Britain in cooperation with the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

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