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Peter Doig: A Collector’s Guide

Five things to know about Peter Doig, a contemporary Scottish painter who is celebrated as one of the most important figurative artists today.

Works featured on offer at West Chelsea Contemporary.

Peter Doig in his studio

Peter Doig’s mesmerizing works are characterized by their equal focus on both landscapes and figures that emerge as painterly abstractions with distinctive compositions. Doig’s works are powerful representations of contemporary existence that meld personal, universal, and historical references into the subjects of his imagery.

Read on below to discover five things every art collector should know about Peter Doig.

  1. Doig’s frequent uprooting in his childhood has been influential in his life and apparent in his work. Following his father’s job at a shipping company from the United Kingdom to Trinidad and then Canada seems to be thematic in Doig’s life as he has retraced those steps throughout his adulthood. Doig moved to London in 1979 where he studied at the Wimbledon School of Art and later received his MA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1990. In 2000, his friend the painter Chris Ofili invited Doig to an artist residency in Trinidad. No introduction to Doig’s work is complete without reference to Trinidad, the Caribbean island where Doig briefly lived as a young boy and returned to live and work in 2002. It is where the artist recalibrated much of his subject matter, transferring the island’s sense of edenic paradise into every brushstroke of his work.
Peter Doig, Untitled (Canoe) (2008) on view at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. Peter Doig’s canoes have become a seminal image in his work. Drawing from his childhood in Canada and one of the more chilling scenes from Friday the 13th, Peter Doig’s canoes have become a common occurrence in his work; the reflection in the water, signifying a double life, serves as a fantasy mirror to the unknown. One night in 1987, Doig came back from the barn and caught the end of a movie that his younger sister Sophie was watching on videotape. It was “Friday the 13th,” Sean Cunningham’s cult horror film, and what he saw was the sequence after the murders when the only survivor, a terrified young girl alone on the lake, had escaped in a canoe. Doig was so struck by the beauty and the weirdness of the scene that he went back to the barn that night and started painting. “Friday the 13th” is the first of seven canoe paintings he made over the next decade. For later canoe paintings he used the video for reference, but he painted from memory on his first of the series and the result is raw and unconvincing. The image stayed with him. The canoe, this fragile, lightweight vessel that opened up Canada’s vast interior, had an iconic appeal to Canadians and also to Doig. “It’s almost a perfect form,” he said. 
Peter Doig, Canoe Island (2000)
  1. Themes of magical realism stream through Peter Doig’s work, capturing timeless moments of perfect tranquillity, where photo-album memory flits in and out of waking dream. Characterized by their captivating combination of figurative depiction and dreamlike quality, his enigmatic works combine physical experience with emotive recollection, conveying meditations on the concept of memory itself rather than literal representations. Focusing on the building blocks of existence, tension is built around the polarization of nature and culture, organic and man-made, and the known and unknown in his works. Doig draws on personal memories from his childhood in Canada as well as imagery sourced from photographs and films to craft images that exist in fantastical, timeless spaces that feel both personal and universal. 
Pete Doig, Echo Lake (1998)
  1.  Doig craves privacy. When it comes to actually producing his paintings, the artist requires solitude, saying, “I need to be on my own and to disappear into my studio. Otherwise I would never get anything done.” Often he will work on a picture over many years. “I tend to start things and then leave them when I get stuck before returning to them,” he explains. “Sometimes that process takes five years or even longer. The minimum is probably a couple of years.”
Peter Doig, Swamped (1990)
  1. The turning point in Doig’s career was a 1992 review by the artist Gareth Jones in Frieze, London’s influential new art journal. Jones wrote perceptively about the Canada paintings and the Briey paintings, which “court risk, walking a fine line between attraction and repulsion.” A number of key people read the article and took notice, putting Doig in the limelight. The sudden, spectacular rise in auction prices for Doig’s work began after he left London. Large paintings by Doig had been selling privately for less than a hundred thousand dollars, but the price started climbing rapidly after the year 2000. He has since held several solo exhibitions including “Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands” which opened in 2013 at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, this was notably the first show of the artist’s work to be held in the country of his birth. In 2007, his painting White Canoe sold at Sotheby’s for $11.3 million, which was at the time an auction record for a living European artist. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others. 

“I don’t want a painting to be too finished, because I think that kills it…” – Peter Doig

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What’s on now at WCC:

West Chelsea Contemporary’s nearly 8,000 square-foot gallery offers the opportunity to highlight work on a monumental scale. From 16-foot originals by RETNA and Cey Adams to colossal sculptural work—including a larger than life mixed media shark and painted aluminum spaceman—the gallery is activated by art world giant’s not only in a metaphorical sense. 

By contemplating ground-breaking movements from the past six decades, Icons & Vandals allows viewers to rediscover and redefine the art world’s most iconic and contentious house-hold names. These artists have left their mark on the development and progression of contemporary art by subverting the norms of their own time.  Through this show it becomes clear that these two labels are not mutually exclusive but in fact ingrained in their interconnectedness. 

Works from ICONS & VANDALS will be on display and for sale at West Chelsea Contemporary in beginning May 15.

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.



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