'To paraphrase [Doig's] description of Jetty, of what happens across its surface: A dream is coming on. Doig paints the beginnings of dreams. Jetty is a beginning, a possibility, a condition, a situation without a plot. We often remember the endings of our dreams, as if they were plotted to have a vaguely rational outcome. I have never remembered a beginning. Doig creates what we do not remember, nor even imagine'
(R. Shiff, 'Drift', in R. Shiff and C. Lampert (eds.), Peter Doig, New York 2011, pp. 303-304).
'So many paintings are of Canada, but in a way I want it to be more of an imaginary place - a place that's somehow a wilderness'
(P. Doig, quoted in R. Shiff, 'Drift' in R. Shiff and C. Lampert (eds.), Peter Doig, New York 2011, pp. 303-304).
'I never try to create real spaces - only painted spaces. That's all I am interested in. That may be why there is never really any specific time or place in my paintings'
(P. Doig, quoted in Peter Doig: Charley's Space, exh. cat., Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2003, p. 33).
'A lot of the paintings aren't of Canadian subjects, but somehow they always end up looking Canadian--it's strange. I'm aware that I can't get away from Canada, because my formative years were spent there. During the time that I returned to Canada I tried to make a painting of the landscape en plein air, and I found it impossible to have either a focus or distance on that image. I was much more comfortable with looking at something on a page, as a way to contain the image. On my return I would go to Canada House in London and look through the brochures advertising holidays in northern Canada. And I discovered a whole set of images that refer to this almost dream-like notion of what these places are actually like, images that described an almost idealized idea of the wilderness experience'
(P. Doig, quoted in A. Searle, K. Scott & C. Grenier (eds.), Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 131).
Executed on a monumental scale, Jetty creates a vision of a perfect landscape, vast and all encompassing, the lake at its heart suffused with all the blazing colours of an Indian Summer sunset. The haloed, solitary profile of a lone man stands upon the Jetty of its title, leading the eye to a single canoe gliding silently across the lake's glassed surface. A masterpiece by Peter Doig, Jetty (1994) dates from a pivotal moment in the artist's career, and has remained in the same prestigious collection since the year of its creation. Rendered in a twilight palette, Doig captures the witching hour, the fiery lake alight with firefly flecks of amber, violet, and scarlet. Taking a scenic postcard as his point of departure, Jetty is a poignantly nostalgia-tinged rendering of Alberta's Cameron Lake in Western Canada. Although this is clearly a figurative image we are looking at, the composition is enshrouded in abstract painterly process and technique: veils of translucent colour akin to Rothko are overlaid with gestural looping skeins of Pollock-like drips and Pointillist dots of pure colour creating a lush, detailed surface. Across a vast panoramic expanse, the landscape dissolves into abstraction, the silhouettes of the solitary man, the boat, and the jetty the only features anchoring the painting in figuration. A painterly meditation on the way we see, just as one's eyes focus on a point in a distant vista, here through a series of abstract processes, a figurative image begins to come to life.
Painted in 1994, the same year the artist was nominated for the Turner Prize and won the first prize in the Prix Eliette von Karajan, works from this year are now widely considered the best of his career, with Jetty standing as a formative work in his artistic practice. Indeed, Doig recalls personally selecting Jetty alongsde Pine House (Rooms for Rent) to feature as centrepieces of his first solo exhibition at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in New York City in 1994, driving it himself from Cobourg Ontario to Manhattan to ensure its inclusion, and was acquired at this point by the present owner. Several works from this important year are housed within international museum collections including Ski Jacket, 1994, Tate Modern, London, Boiler House, 1994, promised to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Corn Cob, 1994, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The canoe formed a touchstone for the artist since the beginning of his career in the 1980s, with variations of this motif reappearing in several major works such as Swamped, 1990, White Canoe, 1990-1991, Night Fishing, 1993, Canoe-Lake, 1997-1998, 100 Years Ago (Carrera), 2001, Centre Pompidou, Paris.
A unique iteration of the artist's most famous motif, Jetty features the striking image of a canoe drifting across a placid lake. Inspired by the romantic optimism promised in an idealistic picture postcard, Jetty remains the only painting realized of this distinctive source image. As Judith Nesbitt describes in the catalogues for the artist's 2008 retrospective at Tate in London, Doig himself imagined 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' (J. Nesbitt, 'A Suitable Distance', J. Nesbitt (ed.), Peter Doig, exh.cat., London, 2008, p. 12). Discussing this relationship, Doig explained that he had imagined the resident to be the figure in one of his source photographs who appears in several works including the adapted self-portrait Corn Cob, now in the Los Angeles Museum of Art. (A. Searle, quoted in Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 30).
A LANDSCAPE REMEMBERED
Doig's practice is one of singular displacement. Doig lived in Canada from 1966-1979 and 1986-1989, but it was not until he had moved to London, UK to attend the Chelsea School of Art, that he began re-visiting and reliving the landscapes of his youth. Based on an image found in a postcard, this image, along with others that he has created throughout his travelling life, are the result of a desire to depict, capture and represent his highly personal memories, feelings and experiences relating to his upbringing in Canada. Having studied art in London during the 1980s, he returned to Canada for an interlude, living in Montreal between 1987 and 1989.
Despite being impressed and inspired by some of his artistic predecessors there, it was only through absence that he began to discover that, regardless of his chosen theme, his adopted 'home' was invading his pictures: 'A lot of the paintings aren't of Canadian subjects, but somehow they always end up looking Canadian--it's strange. I'm aware that I can't get away from Canada, because my formative years were spent there. During the time that I returned to Canada, I tried to make a painting of the landscape en plein air, and I found it impossible to have either a focus or distance on that image. I was much more comfortable with looking at something on a page, as a way to contain the image. On my return I would go to Canada House in London and look through the brochures advertising holidays in northern Canada. And I discovered a whole set of images that refer to this almost dream-like notion of what these places are actually like, images that described an almost idealized idea of the wilderness experience' (P. Doig, quoted in A. Searle, K. Scott & C. Grenier (eds.), Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 131).
Tinged with nostalgia, Jetty captures the feeling of a Canada remembered: the quality of light, the warmth of the breeze, the lapping of waves, the haunting birdsong of the loon. Much in the way that Proust identified that our minds do not capture and relive static imagery, but moments or scenes that are re-played slightly differently each time according to our own mood and at a certain moment, so too does Doig's painting capture this raw reality. In Jetty, the familiar becomes estranged and the boundaries between what is real, imagined and remembered become blurred. While Western Canada provided the catalyst for Jetty's inspiration, Doig's own childhood was rooted in rural Ontario and Quebec, suggesting that, like the vagabond traveler, the postcard image was the subject of his own childhood day dreams. Indeed for Doig, the act of painting is always retrospective, referring not to his contemporary location but to places, people and moments suspended in the past. It is this non-specific nature of the landscape in Jetty which invites the beholder to share in the mental terrain of the picture plain.
A LANDSCAPE PAINTED
Created in the midst of an urban art movement defined by the cool, detached conceptual art of the Young British Artists, here was a Scottish-born artist who had spent his early life in rural Canada. Standing in contrast to his YBA contemporaries whose practice was ensconced in Post-Minimalist and conceptual rhetoric, Doig distinguished himself as a painters' painter, but one whose practice is informed by the post modern discourse of his generation, speaking to the tradition of Conceptualism, appropriation art, and Neo-expressionism. In the early 1990s, Doig honed his own unique painting technique, taking inspiration from memory, postcards, magazines, films, and photos snapped from television which resonated with the artist, before dramatically reworking the images through his unique painterly process. Working intuitively from his archive of sources, Doig builds up his paint in layers, the unexpected developments of the paint skimming across the surface create a totally unique derivation of the source. The unpredictable nature of this process allows the artist to work spontaneously, evaluating the composition after each layer, allowing the elaborate designs to grow organically, its complex imagery emerging from the superpositioned motifs. Extending beyond this initial point of inspiration, Doig's treatment of the image extrapolates it from its source- omitting and adding features, fundamentally altering the landscape. In Jetty, Doig intentionally produces a mirror image of the postcard, as he does in Ski Jacket from the same year, as if producing a mental negative of its source photograph. As the artist explains: 'I think the way that the paintings come out is more a way of trying to depict an image that is not about reality, but one that is somehow in between the actuality of a scene and something that is in your head.' (P. Doig, quoted in Peter Doig: Charley's Space, exh. cat., Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, 2003, p. 18). In doing so, Doig reinvented one of the most anachronistic of artistic genres, the landscape, revivified for the contemporary age.
In Jetty Doig employed a vast array of painterly techniques to build the surface, experimenting with the limitless properties of his medium and its ability to resonate with the tones and textures of the natural landscape. Doig invokes a wealth of art historical and popular cultural reference: glossy, picturesque scenes on holiday postcards, Jackson Pollock's kinetic eddies of 'all-over painting', Paul Cézanne's planes of vivid colour, Mark Rothko's colour registers and gauzy layers of colour, Pierre Bonnard's dreamlike imaginary, Edvard Munch's expressive visions. Re-envisioning the landscape tradition of the Canadian Group of Seven, Doig infuses his own personal memories of Canada into the historical landscape tradition to create a radically imagistic panorama. His primeval memory permits him to omit and add features, fundamentally altering the landscape. From Doig's manipulation of the image comes a slippage- his abstract techniques and processes build an image which exists in the space between photographic reality and vivid memory.
The untamed treatment of paint begins with an earthy base coat of pure saturated colour. Rich forest greens and browns built up with a bristled brush create the matte terrain, upon which layers of lacy layers of translucent indigo glaze build up the profiles of trees, streaked with linseed oil diffusing the paint, creating a subtle mottled surface. The eye marvels at the varied textures of the paint and the artist's exquisite gestures, the monumental canvas celebrates the sensory pleasures of colour and texture of paint in its palimpsests of sienna, violet, and green which radiate and liquefy throughout the beautifully worked surface. Simultaneously building and subtracting layers, Doig organically built up the painting surface from background to foreground, creating 'a logical contraction as a sensory fact: As colour fades out, the same colour fades in' (R. Shiff, 'Drift', in R. Shiff and C. Lampert (eds.), Peter Doig, New York 2011, p. 303). The profile of the brilliant white Jetty stands in sharp relief, its clean profile built up by palette knife. The haunting silhouettes of the figure and the canoe, outlined in ghostly halos, created by stencil, their figures are the dark, earthen layer of the base coat. Standing proud upon the surface, lustrous tactile dollops of paint in sumptuous impasto. Pointillist flecks of colour scattered across the surface of the lake infused with pure light so that it appears illuminated from within.
A LANDSCAPE REINVENTED
Cast in the gorgeously amplified Canadian light and bold atmosphere, Doig's mystically abstract vignette is suspended in the variety of painterly processes applied to its surface. The moody, brooding palette heightens the sense of drama, imbuing a sense of mystery into the picture plane. As the artist explains, 'I often use heightened colours to create a sense of the experience or mood or feeling of being there... We have all seen incredible sunsets. We've all experienced the sensation of light dropping and producing strange natural effects and I think in a way I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting' (P. Doig, quoted in A. Searle, K. Scott, C. Grenier (eds.), Peter Doig (Contemporary Artists), London 2007, p. 132).
Doig's idiosyncratic colour palette is reminiscent of the depiction of landscapes by Bonnard, recalling the Post-Impressionist's magical application of paint to render the world as vivid as a glowing memory or cherished dream. Bonnard's paintings, Doig enthused, 'despite the lack of visible information, they give you everything you need to know: not only their identity, but also their mood. Somehow he is painting the space that is behind the eyes. It's as if you were lying in bed trying hard to remember what something looked like. And Bonnard managed to paint that strange state. It is not a photographic space at all. It is a memory space, but one which is based on reality' (P. Doig, quoted in 'Peter Doig: Twenty Questions (extract), 2001,' in A. Searle, K. Scott, C. Grenier (eds.), Peter Doig (Contemporary Artists), London 2007, p. 142).
Its sublime painterly surface presenting a painterly voyage of discovery into the vast Canadian wilderness, Jetty performs as a contemporary revisiting of Caspar David Friedrich's vision of the artist being dwarfed by the landscape that surrounds him. Distinct in its presentation, Doig's romanticised wilderness emits all the heady reminiscences of a familiar yet foreign frontier vista, inducing a profound sense of nostalgia for a terroir perhaps only visited in a lucid dream. In its vivid expressionist departure from reality, estranged from its original source, Jetty has introduced an existential dimension, prompting the viewer to ask questions about the picture itself, the world it represents, and our own place within our own surroundings. As such, one begins to understand that what at first appears to be a very straightforward beautiful landscape is in fact a painting about painting; its presentation of the world informed by Doig's organic painting process. In its reinterpretation of this landscape, fusing figurative dreams, memories and visions with the artist's distinctive painterly processes and concepts, Jetty stands as the significant and highly impressive crescendo in Peter Doig's oeuvre, one that manifestly presents the world through the eyes of the artist.