Sunday, January 13, 2008

Figure in a Mountain Landscape

Peter Doig is coming to Tate Britain for a talk next month. I was told the tickets all went within 30 minutes of going on sale, so sadly I won't be able to report on what he says, but I'll try to get to the exhibition. Doig tends to re-work his themes, one of which is Figure in a Mountain Landscape, examples of which are here, here and here (this last one is subtitled, for no clear reason, 'I Love You Big Dummy', which is presumably a Captain Beefheart reference..?) The original for Doig's cowled figure en plein air is a 1935 photograph of Franklin Carmichael, one of the Canadian Group of Seven painters, sketching at Great Lake Nortern Ontario. Rather than paint and repaint a landscape from nature, Doig paints and repaints a photograph of someone painting a landscape from nature.

There is a short article about Doig in the latest issue of Tate etc. by the Brooklyn-based critic Lyle Rexer (great name!) He says that Doig benefits from "a certain Richter effect, that is from anti-Platonist critiques, when it came to be understood that he, too, often preferred two-dimensional images as models to the common reality of the breathing world." When I said in a previous post of Gerhard Richter's landscapes "there is little comfort to be had in these highly artificial paintings, based on photographs or picture postcards" I was of course referring to those who would seek spiritual solace in Nature or desire a painting that transmits the artist's feeling for a particular place. But of course many contemporary viewers will want precisely to be reassured that this is not what is happening. Rexer says that one of Doig's curators, for example, "went so far as to assure us that there is no nature painting here, no plein air, only good studio conceptualism." However, in a sense Peter Doig simply approaches painting in a traditional way. It's just that instead of painting, say, Cadmus and a snake in a landscape, like Poussin, Doig paints Berry Oakley and a canoe in a landscape.

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