BBC TwoNewsnight Review
Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 18:22 GMT
Strange reflections with Peter Doig
Martha Keaney
By Martha Kearney
Newsnight Review

Reflection by Peter Doig
Reflection by Peter Doig can be seen at Tate Britain until 27 April

It is clearly a strange experience for an artist to see so many of his paintings all gathered together in one place.

Peter Doig explained to me that after a painting is sold, it has an after life with the new owner.

At first he found it exciting that someone wanted to buy his work and hang it on their wall. It cleared a space in the studio.

Now he regrets that he has lost so many of his pictures.

One in particular must have been a loss. Nearly a year ago, White Canoe a picture Doig had painted in 1990 sold at Sotheby's for 5.7million, at the time the most ever paid for a painting by a living European artist.

It had been owned by Charles Saatchi. Doig told me that the sale "seemed to be something that was representative of this strange kind of art market that's outside of my control".

Connections in technique

In the past it wasn't obvious that Doig would enjoy that kind of commercial success, despite his nomination for the Turner Prize in 1994. Many of his contemporaries - the Young British Artists (YBAs) - were acclaimed for turning their back on painting in favour of conceptual art (though it is Doig's firm belief that "painting is conceptual too. All art is conceptual.")

Milky Way by Peter Doig
Milky Way by Peter Doig
Wandering around the retrospective of his work at Tate Britain, the artist told me that seeing all the paintings together made him see connections in technique that had never been obvious before.

Flashes of white light in a forest became patches of snow in another painting. Winter scenes recur again and again - mesmerising reflections of frozen lakes, psychedelic ski jackets, snowy woods - inspired by the time his family spent in Canada. (He was born in Edinburgh in 1959).

But those landscapes only came to him years later when he had left Canada for London. Much of his work needs that distance, both geographical and of form so he frequently paints from photographs or images from film.

Martha with Peter Doig
Martha and Peter Doig at the Tate Britain retrospective
A scene of a young woman in a canoe from the movie Friday the 13th is a recurrent motif, reworked over time until the long haired female becomes a figure of Christ.

Junk shop postcards

Peter Doig now lives in Trinidad and the snowscapes of Canada have been abandoned for the lush, tropical, green of the Caribbean and macabre figures of the Carnival. However here again the artist places a distance.

The painting Pelican may have been inspired by a Trinidadian fisherman killing a bird but its form is taken from a postcard of South India found in a junk shop.

For me it was a real privilege to be taken round such a exceptional exhibition by the artist, to have so much explained to me.

Country Rock by Peter Doig
Country Rock by Peter Doig
I was able to ask why the paintings of a Le Corbusier building in a French forest felt so haunting, so melancholy?

Doig told me the woods were near the war graves of Verdun so the place itself was infused with sadness which in turn influenced his work.

That is the quality of the paintings which will endure for me - the undoubted beauty of the images combined with a sense of unease and foreboding.

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