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Peter Doig at The Courtauld Gallery

By Gemma Batchelor, 27.04.2023
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Peter Doig, Alpinist, 2022. Pigment on linen. Copyright Peter Doig, All Rights Reserved.

Twelve paintings by one of contemporary art’s giants are currently to be found in The Courtauld Gallery; their potency and grand scale more than enough to make up for their small number.

Before entering the exhibition, we pass dozens of highlights of 19th and early 20th century art held within the gallery’s permanent collection; works by Manet and Van Gogh glimpsed in the corners of eyes. This sets the scene for viewing works by Peter Doig; the influence of Impressionism and Post Impressionism is evident in the artist’s practice, as his confidence in following on from such masters.

Peter Doig, Music (2 Trees), 2019. Photo Mark Woods. Copyright Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved. DACS 2023

Doig’s biography is well known. Born in Edinburgh, his family first moved to Trinidad and then to Canada whilst he was a child. The artist later returned to the UK to study in London before returning to settle in Trinidad in 2002 for almost two decades. In 2021 he moved again to London, a moment of transition that this exhibition celebrates. Influences from his three very different homes can be seen in his paintings; Canada represented in a snowy mountain scene, Trinidad through the warm backdrops of beaches and waters, and London through the setting of an old canal. Through his rich and varied paintings we travel with the artist.

Peter Doig, Painting on an Island (Carrera), 2019. Oil on linen. Pinault Collection. Copyright Peter Doig, All Rights Reserved.

Doig’s compositions seem to sit somewhere between reality and the surreal, as do his subjects, whether they be a sunbather, a skier, or an artist at his easel under the light of the moon. The figures suggest romantic archetypes but not of those that are known to us. Their ethereal quality places them beyond our realm, their ghostliness increased by their anonymity. It’s fitting that The Courtauld Gallery last year exhibited works by Edvard Munch, whose work Doig has often drawn upon. Echoes of the elder’s paintings emerge in Doig’s loose and expressive use of paint as well as something less tangible found in these eerie presences within sublime landscapes.

Beyond the exhibition, Doig presents a series of etchings made in response to the poetry of the artist’s friend, the late Derek Walcott. While just as intriguing as the rest, they focus more on form, line and tone in the absence of colour. After the magnificence of Doig’s sensorial colours and painterly washes, this room of monochromatic scenes offers a quieter experience, but no less appreciated.

Peter Doig, Untitled (Lapeyrouse Wall), 2017. Etching with aquaint. Copyright Peter Doig. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Doig, is exhibited at The Courtauld, Gallery in the Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries (& The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery) until 29th May.