FS Colour Series: LOVE BIRD Inspired by Peter Doig’s Iridescent Greens
When looking at the paintings and prints of contemporary artist Peter Doig, it is easy to link his work with the great expressionist painters of art history, from Henri Matisse to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch. Yet Doig cannily adds his own contemporary twist, through electrifyingly bright, iridescent colours like LOVE BIRD, along with snippets of narrative that relate to a series of popular media outlets, like film stills, magazine pages and newspaper articles. Thus, his work becomes a fusion of old and new, looking both backward and forwards in time.
Although Doig is often referred to as a Scottish painter, his background is much more nuanced and complex. Born in Edinburgh in 1959, Doig moved with his family to Trinidad when he was two years old. Five years later the family moved again, this time to Montreal in Canada, following his father’s work as a shipping merchant. Doig was packed off to boarding school in Scotland aged 12, but he hated it so much his parents relented and let him return home to Canada. This transitory start in life left Doig with the feeling of being an interloper, as he later commented, “I’m an outsider. I’ve always been an outsider. Even in London. If I returned to Scotland, I’d feel a complete foreigner.”
Doig struggled with the structure of school and left aged 17 to take up casual work. While working as a labourer on a gas drilling rig, Doig idly began sketching, and he slowly began to nurture a desire to become an artist. In 1979, Doig ventured to art school in London, studying at Wimbledon College of Art, followed by Central St Martins. While Doig found academic drawing hard, he found ways around his struggles, by projecting photographic images onto canvas to trace their outlines.
Following graduation Doig wandered back and forth between London and Canada, eventually settling on a postgraduate MA course at Chelsea School of Art. Here Doig found himself surrounded by conceptual artists, but he persisted with his desire to be a figurative, expressive painter, eventually finding success during the early 1990s. Since 2002, Doig has been living in Trinidad, and the rich vibrancy of his paintings reflect the artist’s abundant, tropical surroundings, inviting comparisons with the late work of Paul Gauguin.
Since the late 1990s Doig has been making paintings which suggest snippets of narrative, featuring abandoned houses, figures reflected in pools of water, or strange animals that convey an eerie quality of threat. In many of his most recent paintings, Doig has moved into fantastical, surreal territory, with acid-bright colours and strange scenarios that make little sense. In Young Lion, 2015, for example, a ferocious creature is painted with blustering brush marks as it saunters down an urban street, while an intense green aura suggesting artificial street light catches his fur, and stains the walls around him.
Meanwhile in Two Trees, 2017, Doig paints three figures against dark blue, moonlit water, and the figure on the left wears a glowing lime green sweater speckled with the same botanical patterns as the trees beside him. Untitled (Small Wheelchair), 2019 recalls Kirchner’s early 20th century street views, echoing the same long lines and exaggerated perspective, but Doig introduces flashes of pale green and bright orange, bringing his image into the digitized 21st century. Lion (Fire Down Below), 2019 is another curious night-time scene, featuring a lion caught in the dazzling glare of a street lamp, which casts a crisp lime green shadow onto the walls around him, creating a strange, anticipatory glow.
I love the colors. They pop off the paintings. Makes you take notice.