PETER DOIG (B. 1959)
PETER DOIG (B. 1959)
PETER DOIG (B. 1959)
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PETER DOIG (B. 1959)

White Canoe (version)

PETER DOIG (B. 1959)
White Canoe (version)
signed twice, titled and dated ‘PETER DOIG “WHITE CANOE” (version) oil canvas ’93 Peter Doig’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
20.4 x 25.4 cm. (8 x 10 in.)
Painted in 1993
Private collection, London (acquired directly from the artist)
Sotheby's London, 22 June 2007, lot 303
Private collection, Norway

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Lot Essay

“In Canada, the canoe is an emotive kind of a national symbol... an incredible symbol of freedom and movement and all that sadness that goes with it. The shape of it really fascinates me. It’s almost like the perfect form.” Peter Doig quoted in Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Peter Doig, 2015, p. 13)

One of the only existing canvas studies of the seminal White Canoe, the present work is a jewel of a painting whose petite dimensions belie an epic power and intensity which draws the viewer across the room, into its dream-like world. Its magical mystery contains, at its heart, a single glowing white canoe floating serenely in the glassy moon-lit water and carrying a solitary figure, bent over and gazing into the water. With its horizon line set three quarters of the way up the painting, the stillness of the water is palpable, thus rendering the majority of its surface a reflection. With closer viewing, the dense tapestry of techniques, in which the image is submerged, gradually begins to unravel and reveals that this is no ordinary landscape painting. Rather, it is a masterclass in post-modern painting, in which that oldest of art forms, the Landscape, is revitalised and reimagined for the contemporary age. Executed at a time when the zeitgeist was represented by the cool, detached conceptual art of the emerging Young British Artists, here was a Scottish-born artist, who had spent the first twenty years of his life in Canada, re-visiting the landscapes of his youth. Rather than just painting those landscapes with his obvious technical ability, however, he distilled his distinctly romantic sensibility through a remarkable, intuitive understanding of the material nature of paint and the techniques employed by the greatest practitioners of the past. "For Doig, the canoes are more than just recollections. Ultimately, they are the vehicles through which he seeks to dramatise the workings of memory itself. Filtered through disparate sources and myriad layers of brushwork, they bring about a slippage between painterly, personal and fictional histories. Optical shifts ensnare them: a splatter of paint becomes a shard of frost, a reflection in a pool or a piece of televisual static. Centuries of artistic influence - Pieter Brueghel, Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Edvard Munch, Barnett Newman, Gerhard Richter - flicker in and out of focus in their wake.” (Francis Outred in Francis Outred, ed., Cabins and Canoes: The Unreasonable Silence of the World, Faurschou Foundation, Beijing, 2017, p. 15). The dedication and devotion to the age-old medium, at a time when the art world had largely turned away from it, set him as something of a standard bearer for a generation when eventually it re-emerged as the key art form in the 21st century.

Arguably the best of a series of 'canoe' paintings which he executed just after leaving Chelsea School of Art in the early 1990s, these works immediately appear quite traditional in their subject matter. However, closer inspection reveals a rich variety of influences which, on the one hand, reflect his immersion in the Art, Film and Photography of contemporary culture and on the other, his upbringing in the rural tranquility of Canada. The origin of this image is not, as one might imagine, the artist ‘en plein air’, finding a scene which takes his eye. Rather, it is a still from the 1980 horror lm “Friday the 13th“ in the chilling denouement at Camp Crystal Lake. Seemingly this is the moment just before ‘Jason’ rises to claim the last remaining survivor. However, frozen in time and lovingly re-created, this image has the opposite connotations; its sense of serenity and calm blends with the aura of romance conjured by a reflection in water.

“The mirroring opened up another world. It went from being something like a recognisable reality to something more magical” (Peter Doig, 2003, quoted in Exhibition catalogue, London, Tate, Peter Doig, 2008, p.14)

In the same way that a reflection is as convincing, if not more so, than the reality it mirrors, Doig here fuses the abstract with the figurative in a way never previously seen. He manipulates our senses so that one marvels not just at the romantic wonder of the landscape scene but also at the post-modern accumulation of techniques which construct the painted surface. The paintings of Peter Doig stand out in their ability and power to hold the viewer’s gaze, thus cementing his reputation as one of, if not the, most influential painters of his generation.

Adrian Searle observed that “Doig discovered in this very short period of time...that paint is like mud and can be drawn out in to trails and strokes like dangling vines...It can make a clean white shape, like a canoe, or a broken inchoate mess of spatters... Paint can be like air or light, or solid as a bronze fire hydrant...It can be inchoate and formless, or lain on canvas like a row of bricks.” (Adrian Searle, ‘A Kind of Blankness’, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 73).

In White Canoe (version), Doig’s discovery and subsequent exploration of the versatility of oil paint is clearly demonstrated. The small composition is confidently and spontaneously worked, resulting in a multifaceted and recondite depiction of Doig’s atmospheric microcosm.

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