'Intellectual uncertainty, ambivalence and contradiction are directions often taken in Doig's paintings and embodied in their make-up. Pine House (Rooms for Rent) 1994 was a house for transient workers that Doig photographed following a bad fire; returning a few years later, he found it had been replaced by a new set of condominiums, which prompted him to paint the picture. A ramrod tree trunk slices the upper half of the picture in two and skeins of paint cut into the surface like barbed wire. Apparition and negation are dynamically related in the formation of these paintings' (J. Nesbitt, 'A Suitable Distance, pp. 9-20, J. Nesbitt (ed.), Peter Doig, exh.cat., London, 2008, p. 12).
Executed on a vast, immersive scale Pine House (Rooms for Rent), painted in 1994, represents one of Peter Doig's most important works. Glanced at as if passing by the roadside, a disused burnt-out rooming house, its roof sunken in, is bathed in a gorgeous wintry light. Chanced upon by Doig some years earlier, the house's later transformation into a set of new condominiums encouraged Doig to paint an ode to its existence and build an imaginary narrative through a set of three paintings which would come to define his oeuvre. Part of a triumvirate of works including Jetty and Corn Cob exhibited in his first solo show in New York that same year, these paintings encompass a narrative and painterly complexity which represented the artist at the peak of his powers. Seen through the variety of vegetation, this painting shows the origins of his ideas into the renowned series of Cabin paintings which would be exhibited later in the year in London, when he was also nominated for the Turner Prize.
In the catalogue to the 2008 retrospective of Doig's works held at the Tate in London, Judith Nesbitt wrote that Doig himself imagined another work from this period, Jetty, 'as a kind of postcard image that one of the residents in Pine House might have pinned to his bedroom wall, a picture to be gazed at before drifting into sleep' (ibid., p. 12). Discussing Pine House more recently, Doig explained that he had imagined the resident to be the figure in one of his source photographs who appears in several works including Corn Cob, now in the Los Angeles Museum of Art. In this way, the three paintings form a deliberately loose, personalised narrative thread, one immortalised in the vignettes of each shown, alongside a few other motifs, in his 1996 oil on board, Drifter. And in evoking the trials and tribulations of this drifter, who therefore appears directly and indirectly in several of Doig's works, the artist may be introducing a form of self-portrait, a substitute figure through which to channel some of his own experiences. As Adrian Searle stated:
'Doig's paintings offer a distillation of references and experience, albeit one with a somewhat hallucinogenic, giddying cast. His paintings occupy a place between personal and collective experience. He suggests other hinterlands too: the places where the city untidily peters out into the country; the point at which the painter stops attending and begins inventing, and becomes a beholder of the unfolding of an unplotted act... As images these couldnt be produced in any other way than as paintings. There is a hinterland between a depiction... and its delivery, and it is here that Doig's paintings are at their most specific and descriptive, and the viewer's sense of displacement is felt most acutely' (A. Searle, Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, exh. cat., London, 1994, p. 30).
The dazzlingly rich painted surface absorbs the viewer, pulling us towards the sensuous, rich and varied textures of paint while also immersing us in the illusory world that he has created on the canvas. This painting is incredibly evocative, both in terms of its motif and the dazzling variety of techniques that the artist has used: from the delicate veiling of opaque colour which dresses the underlayers and forms the backdrop to the lightly stippled roadside grass which recalls David Hockney to the Pollock-like all-over dripping and splashing which is expertly applied to create the icy road surface and the late evening sky; from the ghost-like passage of delicate drawing to the left side of the house, to the extraordinarily bold and spiky tree stripped of its leaves which obscures the left side of the house cast in intricate, thick passages of white paint to the almost photographically reproduced fir which part covers the peak of the right side of the house.
As is the case in the greatest of Doig's paintings, Pine House appears as a fragment from an unknown yet eerily familiar narrative, a film still from a movie whose plot we cannot quite recall, an abandoned family photo. That sense of displacement and abandonment is central to Doig's own thoughts on this picture: the house shown in Pine House, while deliberately recalling Edvard Munch's Red Virginia Creeper, was one with which Doig himself was familiar in reality. Munch is an ever-present reference in Doig's work, along with Klimt, and both artists were masters of painterly 'atmosphere'. With the grand scale and extraordinary variety of mark-making and imagery, Doig has taken their ideas a few stages further.
This large-scale monument to the now-vanished house in Cobourg hints at the fading of the old ways and the old days, yet Doig himself has emphasised his distance from nostalgia per se, not least in his Canadian-themed pictures. These, which had really begun on Doig's return to Britain, when he was away from the motifs, were often based on his own photographs or on leaflets taken from London's Canada House, yet it is not home-sickness that they conjure: 'For the most part I tried to avoid becoming involved in nostalgia, and that's why a lot of the imagery I used for these paintings were things that reminded me of my experience rather than things that were directly from my experience.' (Doig, quoted in A. Searle, K. Scott & C. Grenier, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 10).
This idea of being lost is shared by the techniques and the motif, Doig creating an elegant conceptual unity between the medium and the message alike: as these marks become apparent, the subject matter itself dissolves, Doig ensuring that we cannot see the proverbial wood for the trees, or vice versa. He has created a work in which various elements shimmer and veer, mirage-like, in and out of focus, appearing and disappearing. By these means, Doig has deftly taken to pieces and reassembled the entire notion of representation and granted it a new incarnation and a new validity.