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Spearfish Man
signed and dated ‘Peter Doig 2013’ (lower right)
oil on paper
131.5 x 60.5 cm. (51 ¾ x 23 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2013
PIN. PARTY 2013 Auction, Pinakothek der Moderne Munich, 23 November 2013, lot 12
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

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Kimmy Lau
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Lot Essay

In Peter Doig’s Spearfish Man, a strange, dreamlike apparition confronts the viewer. A lone figure with burnished, mahogany brown skin stands knee-deep and gleaming wet in the rippling waters of the ocean. With the air of something from science fiction, his face is eclipsed behind a bulbous diving mask that glimmers with the pastel blue of the sky and sea. He clutches a spearhead in his hand, which loops through his belt and pierces into the surface of the water. Executed in 2013, this enigmatic work on paper evolved out of Doig’s own hazy memory bank. Remembering a kayaking trip he once took, Doig tells of chancing upon the figures of two men in a boat: ‘one had a spear gun and a huge fish,’ he recalls, ‘so we paddled over. It seemed quite ancient’ (P. Doig, quoted in J. L. Belcove, ‘Stitching Bits of Memory Together’, in New York Times, 25 July 2013). Anonymous and otherworldly, the mysterious protagonist has recurred, in hallmark style, in a number of Doig’s paintings, most notably in Spearfishing, 2013. In that large-scale work, the spearfish man’s stance is inverted: cloaked this time in blazing orange, he stands with spear in hand in a peagreen boat, lyrically reminiscent of Edward Lear’s popular children’s poem, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. Beside him is a seated woman shrouded in yellow. This morphing repetition of iconography, so emblematic of Doig’s style of magical realism, evokes a world at once foreign and deeply familiar. Like the ungraspable substance of dreams or distant memories, a sense of narrative is always right in front of us, and yet forever remains just out of reach.

Having spent his youth between Trinidad, Canada and London before returning permanently to the Caribbean, Doig’s oeuvre centres around the notion of displacement. By fusing disparate source material with images drawn from his own mental archive, his paintings seek to dramatize the mechanics of memory and déja-vu. In Doig’s surreal compositions, his hybrid characters assume something of an autobiographical quality, expressive of his own condition as an itinerant caught between worlds. As Hilke Wagner has suggested, ‘Doig’s works may be understood not only as a mirror of his own transnational biography, but also as a reflection of the hybrid social structure and history of the Caribbean island of Trinidad as well … Colonial situations and processes of migration, as well as reciprocal relationships between the colonized and the colonizing, did not allow any of the parties involved to rest assured of their cultural authenticity’ (H. Wagner, ‘The Fortunate Traveller’, in Peter Doig: Metropolitain, exh. cat., Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich 2004, p. 86). In such a way, Doig’s elusive Spearfish Man seems to embody a sense of the artist’s own displacement and mutable identity. Born of jumbled cultural references – sacred and profane, archaic and contemporary – works such as the present remain perpetually out of joint with an ever-shifting and permanently unstable reality.

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