“There exists a tension,” Peter Doig has explained of his work, “…between the often generic representation of a pastoral scene and the investment in my own experiences of the landscape. All of the paintings have an element of autobiography in them, but I resist making the autobiographical readings overly specific.” Doig’s peripatetic life provides a backdrop for understanding his work. Born in Scotland in 1959, he moved frequently as a child—following his father’s job at a shipping company—from the United Kingdom to Trinidad to Canada, steps he has retraced over the course of his adulthood. Working steadily since the 1980s, he has devoted his career to depicting landscapes tinged with the history and memory of these places.
Made soon after Doig graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in London, Pink Snow (1991), like many of his works, features a solitary male figure. Here, the figure is situated within a mysterious wooded landscape that recalls the artist’s time in Canada. The painting’s jewel-like decorative surface—of snow and its atmospheric qualities—functions like a screen, a visual interference that troubles the viewer’s relationship to the depicted scene. “That is the way the eye looks,” Doig has reflected of these effects, “you are constantly looking through things, seeing the foreground and the background at the same time.”
Doig painted Lapeyrouse Wall (2004) two years after returning to Trinidad. The effects of this move are visible both in its palette, which captures the warm Caribbean light, and in its subject matter: the crumbling wall belongs to Lapeyrouse Cemetery, an 18th-century burial ground in Port of Spain. Named for the man who founded the island’s first sugar estate, the cemetery is a reminder of Trinidad’s colonial history and of the British Empire’s implementation of and dependence on slavery. Loosely delineated, the figure appears both next to and as a part of the wall—perhaps serving as a reminder of the proximity of colonialism’s legacy.
Doig would revisit the wall motif in later works such as House of Flowers (see you there) (2007–2009), in which a lone spectral figure is silhouetted in profile against a stack of black blocks and a wall of yellow bricks. As in Pink Snow, the overlapping forms appear at once decorative and disorienting. Further collapsing the space, Doig painted the words “see you there” at the bottom of the canvas—a reference to his interest in film and, more specifically, the posters he designed for StudioFilmClub, a weekly program he founded in 2003 to bring international film to Port of Spain. “I think my paintings, certainly, are filimic,” he has reflected. But beyond influencing the paintings’ cinematic qualities, film also seems to provide an appealing interpretive frame. As Doig has explained, “I love the idea that the pictures might be films and the viewer could become the director of the film.”
Introduction by Jenny Harris, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2018