‘I often paint scenes with snow because snow somehow has this effect of drawing you inwards and is frequently used to suggest retrospection and nostalgia and make-believe’ (P. Doig, quoted in P. Bonaventura, 'A Hunter in the Snow', Artefactum, no. 9, 1994, p. 12).
Resplendent in its soft translucent pale layers of paint, Peter Doig’s Snowboarder provides a captivating and intimate impression of a vast snow landscape that glimmers in suffused light. Painted in 1996, this work was created at the artist’s creative zenith and sits within the pantheon of snow paintings as Blotter, 1993 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), 100 Years Ago, 2000 (Musee d’Art Moderne Centre George Pompidou, Paris), or Ski Jacket, 1994 (Tate, London). A steep mountain slope is covered by a sensually detailed and heavily veiled expanse of snow, de-focused and obscured through gestural skeins of impasto as well as delicate, pointillist specks of oil paint that float like snowflakes in the air. Mining the rich seam between abstraction and figuration, Doig draws our attention to the nature of painting itself; just as one becomes lost in the abstract qualities of the surface, a carefully placed snowboarder draws our eye back to the representational nature of the scene and interrupts the imagined idyll of untamed nature. Characterized with an almost filmic quality, the scene is imbued with a poignant sense of stillness and foreboding; standing tall as the fir trees in the distance and casting a long shadow over the powdery snow, the blurred figure seems profoundly alone among a dramatic landscape in a way that powerfully evokes the solitude, sublime landscapes of 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.
Snowboarder is heir to the strong lineage of snow scenery in Doig’s oeuvre, a motif that began to feature heavily in the early to mid-1990s. Having moved back to London in 1989 after a two-year stay in his native Canada, Doig gained inspiration for this series from brochures advertising holidays in Northern Canada as well as Claude Monet’s winter landscapes, which he saw at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1990. Indeed, while Snowboarder’s dramatic composition is formally similar to sports photography and travel posters, Doig’s masterful handling of light, colour and the materiality of paint is evocative of Monet’s plein-air studies of landscapes under various light and weather conditions and Post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard’s use of non-naturalistic colour. Extrapolating the emotive characteristics of colour that finds its legacies in German Romanticism and ultimately in the meditative landscapes of Edvard Munch, Doig brings the pigment to life and makes us somatically aware of the wondrous experience of being in the mountains. As Doig explained, ‘I used the way that you perceive things when you are in the mountains; for example when you are feeling warm in an otherwise cold environment, and how the light is often extreme and accentuated by wearing different coloured goggles’ (P. Doig, quoted in M. Higgs, ‘Peter Doig – 20 Questions’, in Peter Doig, Vancouver 2001, p. 20).
With this work, Doig puts forth a post-modernist examination of the medium of painting. While the artist primarily works from a definitive source image culled from newspapers, postcards and album covers, he layers his painting with meaning by reference to multiple sources - be they personal memories of his childhood in Canada, or allusions to the shared visual archive of our common psyche. Giving rise to an image and atmosphere that carries completely new implications, Doig continuously seeks, as Stephane Aquin aptly put it, ‘an intermediate zone situated halfway between the optically definable reality of the spectacle and the subjectivity of the artist’s perception, itself also a function of a specific visual culture’ (S. Aquin, ‘No Land Foreign to Painting’, in P. Mogadassi et al. (eds.), Peter Doig No Foreign Lands, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 2013, p. 13). An imaginative multidimensional meditation on the grandeur of landscape and magnificent space of memory, Snowboarder demonstrates the very combination of painterly, conceptual and poetic maneuvering for which Doig’s practice is universally celebrated.