You would be forgiven for coming to an exhibition of Peter Doig’s early works and expecting to see a vague Trinidadian landscape, a purple canoe or a lonesome figure beneath a snow capped forest, such that we have become familiar with over his Turner Prize winning career. Instead, the Michael Werner Gallery offers us an exhibition of Peter Doig’s early works that offers a fruitfully ambitious display of the artist between studying his BA at Central Saint Martins and his MA at the Royal College.
Many of the paintings in this show explore the same subjects and themes that Doig has become well known for in his later work. We can see his interest in the solitary figure and the beginnings of a curiosity in landscape that is underlined with an exploration in the stuff of paint. The paintings remain biographical and document his time in London, Trinidad and Canada but also feature New York from when he would stop off to get cheap connecting flights between his three homes. The show is therefore decidedly more urban than his better-known later work.
Boom, boom, boom, boom (the sublime) is hung within a room occupied with other paintings inspired by New York. In this painting, two red figures sit in a car precariously balanced on the spire of the Chrysler Building with a dense New York City below. The painting is compositionally awkward however this only adds to the dissonance that is caused through the crude abstracted figures and the averted palate that constantly reminds us that something is not quite right.
The unsettling abstraction from familiarity continues in Contemplating Culture, a painting that was made after Boom, boom, boom, boom (the sublime) and whilst the artist was visiting London. Here we see rising flames licking the maroon sky above the sprawl of a yellow bricked London and a calm blood red river Thames. In front of this surreal landscape we seem to have interrupted a staring contest between an ancient Greek sculpture and his opposite, an angry man whose piercing glare bounces our attention between the two.
Image Courtesy Of The Michael Werner Gallery. Copyright The Artist, Peter Doig.
If we look at a later painting again and the latest in the show we see a much more refined and composed perspective on some of Doig’s most common of themes. In At the Edge of Town we see a recurrence of the maroon sky and a growing interest in the natural landscape. This painting shows a pivotal point in the artist’s career between paintings that show a clash of pop culture among the urban landscape, towards a foreign anonymous landscape that becomes tangled in mystery and suspense.
This is an exhibition made up of experiments. It shows an artist who is forever searching for his own artistic language. There are some paintings here that don’t work as well as others but the brilliance of this exhibition is in the pushing and reworking of ideas that has generated such a prosperous career.
The exhibition runs from 20th March through to the 31st May 2014 and can be seen at the Michael Werner Gallery in London.
Written By Tom Cusack