Canada Speaks to Peter Doig

Almost Gone, 1959. Photo: Christies
Almost Gone, 1959. Photo: Christies

Doig was born in 1959 in Scotland, lived in Trinidad and Canada, moving back to Britain in 1979. It is easy to see the influences of these countries played in Doig’s work.

Doig is an expert in mood and texture; his work draws the viewer into the scene with his ability to create depth and feeling. The results are often solitary, cold and bleak without being dull or flat.

The painting White Canoe is precisely that, a white canoe on a lake: but what it offers the onlooker is a chance to reflect on the detail and the expression – it’s more about what the piece is not saying. So it’s not surprising to find out that the painting is worth £16.6 million and belongs to Charles Saatchi. It can be viewed at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Like many great painters, Doig is an alumnus of St Martins School of Art and Chelsea School of Art; gaining his MA in 1990. 

London in the ’80s was a great place to study – I identify with Doig. I also studied in London in the ’80s, and we may have sat in the same coffee bar in Soho just around the corner from St Martins. I saw the cult horror film ‘Friday the 13th’ at the time of its release, and understand how the painting Canoe Lake and Echo Lake eerily portrays the seconds before the masked serial killer appears from behind the boat to kill its occupant – sadly that’s where the similarities end.

Inspiration from Others 

Doig is a mixture between classic and contemporary artist, taking inspiration from Edvard Munch, Casper Friedrich, Claude Monet and Gustav Klimt. Using newspaper clippings, movie scenes and photographs to inspire, but not to inform. His work is not a true reflection of a location or place but an abstract interpretation of a theme.

‘The Architect’s Home in the Ravine’ by Peter Doig. Photo:

In 1991, just after graduation, Doig exhibited some influential works including Swamped and The Architect’s Home in the Ravine – the artist’s home is a painting on a painting – the house is obscured by trees and underbrush so dense there appears to be no way in. A foreboding statement; possible about inaccessibility, and indeed not a relaxing landscape painting

Doig carried on with this theme and his interest in architecture by creating a series of paintings about his time living and working in an artist retreat called l’ Unité d’Habitation in Briey-en-Foret, France. 

Don Valley Parkway 

One of Doig’s most famous series of work is called Country-Rock-Wing Mirror. This is a painting of Toronto’s landmark rainbow tunnel near the Don Valley Parkway as seen through a moving open car window. The painting sold in 2014 for £15.5 Million.

The underpass itself is as famous as the painting. Although the Don Valley Parkway authority has tried to remove this rainbow on several occasions, the artwork always re-appears, making it one of Toronto’s tourist destinations.

Tate Modern

From 1995 to 2005 Doig was a trustee of the Tate Gallery. The Tate Modern is home to the painting Ski Jacket 1994. Ski Jacket is a painting in two parts; the pictures are the same height but different widths. The focal point is a mirror image of a pine tree, the left-hand side has a pinkish glow, and the right-hand side is architectural and green.

Doig favours a painting depicting snow; when asked, Doig says he was inspired by Claude Monet, in particular, an exhibition Doig visited at the Royal Academy in London in 1990. This exhibition, and his childhood and adolescence spent in rural Quebec, explains a lot about the style and interest of this talented artist.

Peter Doig.

Cult Following 

In recent years Doig has a cultivated a cult following, and a wealthy one at that. Paintings sell for massive amounts. In 2009 Night Playground was sold for more than £3 million and The Architect’s Home in the Ravine fetched nearly £8 million. The figures go up, and up to Rosedale a painting about snow in Toronto sold for over £25 million. Achieving these significant figures guarantees Doig a place in the contemporary artists’ hall of fame. 

It is rumoured the man himself is not interested in the money and paints because he has to and not because he needs to – feeding the soul seems to be the nature that feeds the beast and luckily for him a lucrative one. 

Doig now lives and works in Trinidad. Although born in Scotland Doig lived in Trinidad with his family until he was three years old and moved to Canada and then to England, returning years later to Trinidad take up a residency in 2002 and never leaving. Now that’s excellent work if you can get it.

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