Archives for posts with tag: Peter Doig

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part four

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2004
Bronze
81 x 38.5 x 29.5 cm
(foreground)

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Snafu), 2009
Bronze
89.3 x 40 x 19.3 cm
(background)

David:

For me, Twombly’s paintings and sculptures are distinct – yet they do share this particular relationship with the colour white. It is more than just a ground in the paintings, it has purity and space. And for the sculptures too, it draws the forms together and also softens the light hitting them. These are not shiny objects – that seems important; is it because it makes them feel somehow timeless? Although they are very definitely not from another age. Interesting to note though that while some of the sculpture is cardboard painted white, other pieces are bronze painted white. So he is playing with us to some extent.

The paintings have so much motion and energy and yet the sculpture feels very still – they have none of that manic gestural dynamic that is one of the main characteristics of the paintings. Would you like to have seen some of the paintings alongside the sculpture? Are shows that are exclusively one or the other helping or hindering the understanding of the work?

Richard:

Yes, it would be interesting to see the two together (or at least in the same show) – partly because the paintings are often on a larger scale and seem more cerebral and distant as a result. These sculptures are on a human scale – it’s easy to imagine how they were made – there seems to be no special skill used in their making. The same couldn’t be said of the paintings, which to me always seem very precise and measured despite the marks used to create them. And Twombly is in total control of his mark making – I can’t imagine anyone successfully imitating his approach and so the paintings exhibit a unique skill.

Where I think there is a similarity in the use of the two media and why they seem consistent with each other is that there are ideas buried deep in the work – these objects are propositions. And in both painting and sculpture Twombly is economical with marks/ images to sharpen the viewer’s focus on something. All deceptively simple and delivered with a lightness of touch.

Can we talk about this piece?:

Cy Twombly, Untitled (In Memory Of Babur), 2009
Bronze
76 x 54.8 x 35.3 cm

David:

I want to say that it looks like a prehistoric handbag, but I probably shouldn’t…this is bronze, isn’t it? It seems like a very opaque ancient artefact…I was interested that you thought Twombly’s work is a proposition of some sort. What is being proposed do you think?

All those people who used to drone on about plinths are echoing in my head too. Very much a part of this work. For me this work is a distillation of our fetishisation of ancient cultures, but with the content removed. Its aged surface, and its cryptic, but definite shape, recall the stylised horns of a pagan god. Listening to too much black metal again perhaps, but an echo of the past is here.

Richard:

That’s really funny! I don’t see it as anything recogniseable. It looks to me like some kind of (deep) symbol – like an element of a pictographic written language.

They are simple propositions – how about this mark/ shape/ object – could this convey meaning – how deeply does this resonate?

Yes, I think the echoes of the past are deliberate – and Twombly is probing the symbolism of his marks, turning things over to see what’s underneath. Black metal aside, is there poetry in here?

David:

I’m really not sure.

I can see an oblique link to the past – which means a sort of fetish for the strong emotions of classical stories and images, reinterpreted – in his paintings – by a kind of brilliant mutation of abstract expressionism. But the sculpture in this show, while still redolent of the past, is mute.

The spontaneity of gesture in the paintings is a living language, but the sculptures feel like relics, shells, ghosts. There is no juice in them. The bloody, sexy mess that inhabits the paintings is departed, and these are the bleached bones.

So yes, maybe that is a kind of poetry.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Humpty Dumpty), 2004
Bronze
73 x 49 x 49 cm

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Part one of this conversation can be found here, part two here and part three here.

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To see much nicer images of these works visit Michael Werner Gallery here and Gagosian here.

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David Cook has been reviewing exhibitions in the capital on his blog London Eyeball since 29th May 2012. You can delve in here.

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part three

David:

Yes, we are miles apart on this one! I suppose when I said it looked like the work of any old Expressionist painter, that was a lazy way of saying that some of the distortions seem a little over familiar and the non-perceptual colours and shapes used to suggest emotion seem second hand. Doig isn’t an emotional exhibitionist in the same way as the original Expressionists, but he is – like them – trying to nudge our emotional compass. It’s odd…his art appears naive to me, but it really isn’t. There is a slightly disingenuous quality to that.

Before we move on shall we just look at Night Bathers, (which I think we weren’t actually able to see on the day we went)? It has this same ambiguous innocence and slightly deceptive naive quality. It also has strong echoes of Gauguin and seems to be an aftershock of an unacknowledged sensuality. Is there a parallel between Doig’s Trinidad and Gauguin’s Tahiti?

This is another one I have a hard time with.

Peter Doig, “Night Bathers”, 2019
Oil on linen
275 x 200 cm

Richard:

This is interesting because the figures appear to be floating and the sea looks like a concrete wall. The various elements of the picture are very jarring in that the style of every area of the painting seems very different – the building! Ha, that’s brilliant!  It’s a superb palette as well – kind of descriptive of night time on a beach, whilst referencing modernist paintings and being toxic enough that it seems contemporary.

I agree with you that these paintings are not naïve – there’s an argumentative intensity to the clash of painting styles – and it’s a fine balancing act. They are irritating and sensual enough that I worry over the intent. And the images are simple enough that they linger in the memory. Maybe what I like most about these paintings is the element of risk at their heart – something which is not obvious in the earlier work (although maybe then the risk then was being a painter in a post-painting art world).

Shall we talk about Cy Twombly?

David:

Yes, let’s talk about Cy. A short stroll took us from Doig to Twombly, to a show of his sculpture. I can think of very little to connect the two artists except perhaps that they both live/lived in a kind of exile: Doig in Trinidad, Twombly in Rome. Perhaps both to some extent were ill at ease with their native North American culture.

Twombly always created works that feel harmoniously whole and strangely alive, like he was touching some kind of trunk cable inside himself and holding on as its current ran through him. And I love that very simple entry point the works have – energy, form, stillness. A certain kind of perverse wit, daring the viewer to see the work for what it really is – in the case of the sculpture, a lot of white paint on some old cardboard – but at the same time feel the wholeness of the form.

I know some people don’t like painted sculpture at all – but I disagree. I don’t know why Twombly did it though. Do you think the white paint on the objects is a kind of reference to the Carrara marble in ancient Rome?

Cy Twombly, Untitled (To Apollinaire), 2009
Wood, white paint, cardboard,
and plastic strings
53.3 x 30.5 x 24.1 cm

Richard:

The paint has been applied partly to create a tension between the form and the materials. We are being invited to contemplate forms made of cheap, everyday materials at a slight remove – because of the uniformity of the paint. The effect would not be the same if we were presented with an arrangement of cardboard boxes, bearing handling instructions, manufacturer’s logos and in different shades of brown. I don’t think the materials are supposed to be a distraction in that way. And, yes, I think the sculptures could well be referencing Carrara marble and playfully asking the viewer if a sculpture has to be made from particular materials to be worthy of serious contemplation.

While we’re talking about paint – do you think these works are extensions of Twombly’s painting practice or something distinct?

To be continued…

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Part one of this conversation can be found here and part two here.

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In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig:Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part two

Peter Doig
“Untitled (Wheelchair)”, 2019
Oil on linen
102 1/2 x 78 3/4 inches
260 x 200 cm

Richard:

I don’t know – could it be that the sunshine has burned off the early mist to reveal a new kind of daylight in the paintings? The colours are not bolder or brighter, but there are bigger areas of a single colour than I remember in the earlier works. The compositions seem starker, more striking and consequently more memorable. To me these paintings are like crystallisations of the promise of the earlier works – as if his vision is clearing and he no longer feels the need for so much decoration.

Let’s talk about Untitled (Wheelchair), which exists in two versions in this exhibition – one much smaller than the other.

David:

I am really struggling with the space and geometry of Untitled (Wheelchair), which seems perverse and incoherent, particularly the larger version. Yes, there is a certain warmth to it with the colours and the setting, and the gesture of the man pushing the chair across (I am hoping not just into) the road.

I have problems though. The lack of shadows flattens the space yet the perspective is so forced, and the clash is very uncomfortable. My eye just can’t make sense of the wall with the railing.  The road does not feel flat, it seems like some giant wizard’s hat on top of the guy in the wheelchair. The wheels of the chair seem drawn with a kind of geometric care that is jarring because it is not echoed elsewhere. The shape play with the roadsign and the pole dead centre of the top of the canvas feels ungainly. The hills and trees have paint handled in a more doigy kind of way, suggestive poetic but they sit uneasily on the corner, penned in behind the red railing of the forced perspective wall.

Milton Avery
Strollers by Sea
Oil on Canvas
28 x 36 inches
1936

The flattening approach can work, but here it feels too clunky and subverted by extraneous naturalistic detail that destroys the effect. (Thinking of those wheels and the railing here). For contrast, this Milton Avery picture from 1936 (!). It has light, atmosphere and character but does not sacrifice its central abstract ideas to figurative description. Or at least not so much – it is a tightrope. The handling of the paint is very flat too, but there is a design to the depth and movement of it, which sells the shapes as a pure composition. Then the rather lumpy and odd drawing of the figures takes on life and believability too.

Richard:

As always I like the “irritations” a lot – for me the sum of the things you describe as problems adds up to an image brimful of life and questions. There’s a tenderness to the image that is piqued by the jarring juxtapositions of for example that geometric wheel with the sumptuousness of the standing figure’s coat and the ambiguous expression on the face of the man in the wheelchair. Yes, I love the echo of Doig’s earlier paintings in the hills and trees, but there’s a melancholy sweetness to the way he undercuts it with the pseudo-Expressionist handling of the road at the foot of the picture. The image is deceptive – it looks like a simple design, but it’s teeming with little tensions.

It makes me laugh how opposite our views of this painting are! I like it so much it has replaced the image that springs to mind whenever I hear Doig’s name.

Going back to your earlier point about it looking like any old Expressionist painter’s work – this is a question we’ve not asked before – is that a bad thing?

To be continued…

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Part one of this conversation can be found here.

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In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing.


Peter Doig, “Musical Equipment Ltd.”, 2019
Oil on linen
50 x 38 cm

David:

We have been looking at Peter Doig’s work for a long time – since before he won the Turner Prize (1994), and became internationally known – even becoming the most expensive living European artist for a time. Back in the 90s, I was struck by a quality in his work that was clearly determined to go its own way, but seemed insular and alienated to me – almost like outsider art. What is it about his work that has so engaged people since then – has it changed or have people become more receptive to his style?

Richard:

Yes, there’s quite a difference in style between these paintings and those he made in the early nineties. The earliest I remember were based on family snaps and shots of landscapes. They seemed to have some kind of biographical significance for him and were painted in a heightened form of realism where some areas of colour were pushed to supersaturated extremes – combining figurative and abstract to create something rich and exciting to look at. At the time painting as an activity in itself was not popular – there were very few painters getting exposure who weren’t “slumming it” as part of their conceptual practice. Peter Doig’s work was like a breath of fresh air – they were just undeniably great paintings. And I think he is partly responsible for resurgence in interest in new figurative painting.

The subject matter may seem insular and alienated, but the way he painted those works meant that they teetered on the edge of the decorative, whilst being rigorous, mysterious and contemporary – a rich visual stew and it was inviting – even in dense almost monochromatic images there were fresh, bright areas of colour, and the viewer could identify objects and people in the images – there was an “in”. They are pleasurable things to look at – I think that probably helps a lot.

David:

You are absolutely correct to say that Doig was flying the flag almost alone for painting in the nineties, when it really was deeply unfashionable. His early work was groundbreaking – or felt that way. He was making conventional easel paintings in a straight up modernist style. What he offered us was an image, albeit enigmatic, but one that was free of postmodern irony. There was no ‘twist’ – and his materials were very traditional. But somehow his work had absorbed all sorts of other things: he was contemporary and forward looking, not a reactionary throwback.

Peter Doig, Spearfishing, 2013
Oil On Linen
288 x 200 cm

That very immediate and personal idea of a talented individual realising a vision remains at the heart of the popular idea of what an artist is, and does.

Doig is a visionary artist – and for a visionary artist, when the vision is lost there is not a lot to fall back on. And it might not come back. For the artist of process (like Gerhard Richter for example), everything is thought out beforehand so quality is more consistent; easier to admire, but harder to love. Doig is easy to love when the vision is there, for sure.

But now I wonder if all those layers – all that atmosphere of the Canadian lake mists – has been blown away in the Trinidadian sunshine. He has been resident there for 17 years now, and I feel these new paintings do not have complexity of the night fishing series,  They are still easy on the eye – bright colours, the allure of beautiful bodies and the sea, but they seem more or less like the work of any old expressionist artist. Is that fair comment?

To be continued…