Peter Doig – No Foreign Lands

Pelican (Stag) - 2004, oil on canvas
Pelican (Stag) – 2004, oil on canvas

For a change I’ll be brief.

I hadn’t heard of Peter Doig until I saw the announcement of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit. Now I’m wondering whether I’ve been living under a rock my whole life. I think I’ve found the inspiration I’ve been looking for.

Doig was born in Scotland in 1959 and was raised first in Trinidad before moving to Montreal in the mid 1960s. He would grow up here and work here for a spell in the mid-1980s before eventually finding his way to London and then back to Trinidad. It’s hard to describe his work in and of itself (the wikipedia entry describes it as ‘metamodernism’) but my first reaction was that it fell somewhere between impressionism and expressionism, but executed with an almost pop art indifference regarding the medium.

In terms of artists, it was clear that Matisse, Cézanne and Munch had served as early inspirations, with Gauguin’s South Pacific paintings serving as the most direct reference.

Doig’s early work feature snowy Canadian landscapes quite prominently, but the MMFA’s latest exhibit look principally at works inspired from Doig’s current and past home in Trinidad. I found it fascinating that the early influence of the Group of Seven would come through so clearly in Doig’s expressive landscapes of lagoons, jungles and beaches. Splashes of vibrant, living colour. Quite a contrast to his earlier work, yet in a way quite in keeping with an established Canadian abstract impressionist school, and focused on a land both exceptionally different from Canada yet also intimately related to us. Peter Doig’s journey from Edinburgh to Trinidad, then on to Montreal, London and back to the Caribbean is reflected in his art – his work is so rife with reference it’s self-referential (such as the image above, which can be seen along with the work that inspired it, an earlier piece by the artist based on a photograph he had seen in a National Geographic that he had adapted to something else he had seen in Trinidad!)

But even though the inspiration is clear, the end product is still wholly original, a new way of seeing things.

The selection of Doig’s paintings and sketches put forward by the museum shows us a consistent and prolific artist who has attempted to bring impressionism to 21st century terms all the while remaining ‘true to the roots’ as it were. Though the exhibit was surprisingly small, it was well located in the historic Hornstein Pavilion though I would have preferred if more of the artist’s work had been exhibited outside the galleries so that they could contrast the elegant beaux-arts style of the oldest of the MMFA’s four pavilions (much in the same fashion as they did with the glassworks of the Chihuly exhibit). But all that aside, worth seeing a couple of times. It’s on til the 5th of May 2014.

Also – be sure to see the Stewart design pavilion as well. I made it a point of stopping by after seeing the No Foreign Lands and was surprised by the eclectic collection they’ve got going on there.

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