Hurvin Anderson and Peter Doig on the Meaning of the Caribbean

As ‘Life Between Islands’ opens at Tate Britain, two painters reflect on the importance of place to their work. Amy Sherlock (Frieze) interviews Hurvin Anderson and Peter Doig. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Amy Sherlock What does ‘the Caribbean’ mean to you? 

Hurvin Anderson In a strange way, for me, the Caribbean is a place I don’t know, but have learned about through conversation. I haven’t lived there, but I know it because of family stories. That’s maybe the reason I’m interested in the Caribbean landscape – because I grew up hearing so much about it.

My first experience of Jamaica was in 1979, when I was 14 years old. I come from a family of eight, but I was the only one to be born in the UK. There was a difference between British-born diasporic Jamaicans and Jamaicans, and it always intrigued me what that thing was. Our home felt like a Caribbean home but then, when I stepped out the front door, I was in Britain. With the paintings, I’m trying to get at where these things overlap or clash. Where they meet or don’t meet.

Peter Doig How ‘Caribbean’ do you think your work was, Hurvin, before you went back as a grown man, in 2002, to do a residency in Trinidad?

HA I think the paintings I made pre-2002 were me looking at British life through Caribbean eyes. I was using Handsworth Park, near where I grew up in Birmingham, as a way to engage with the British landscape. It was a place I knew, a place I understood.

AS In your early painting Ball Watching [1997], the setting is very ambiguous. It’s hard to know exactly what we are looking at, how far the landscape extends beyond the frame. That work was based on a photograph you took of people standing at the edge of a pond in the park, looking at a football that had gone into the water. But the painting itself evokes a space that’s much bigger and much less defined. The pond becomes an ocean.

HA That painting spoke about the Caribbean in an obtuse way. The idea was that, on the horizon, there was the intimation of the figures looking back at us. It was almost a mirror, with this sense of back and forth.

PD I remember seeing that painting when you were a student at the Royal College of Art and thinking that the body language of the figures was distinctly non-British. Particularly one guy standing in the centre with his knee bent. To me, that work is less about the landscape than about the people, this grouping and this moment of watching, waiting. 

AS In both of your work, figures come and go. Do you consider yourselves landscape painters?

PD When I meet people and they ask me what I do, I tell them I make paintings with figures, sometimes in a landscape. I think the figure is important; even if it’s not that apparent, there is the idea of a presence, of something human.

HA It’s interesting you answer it like that. For me, figuration is quite a broad term. I guess I want to be ambiguous. I still think a lot about abstraction. 

PD My relationship to the Caribbean is different to Hurvin’s because I lived in Trinidad as a young child. I moved there when I was two and I was there until I was seven and a half. My father was interested in oil painting. He’d go and see a lot of the local exhibitions and, on his somewhat meagre salary, managed to buy some works. The house where I grew up in Canada, later, was filled with paintings by Trinidadian artists. When I returned to Trinidad 33 years later, those names were still around. People like Carlisle Chang, Willi Chen, Leo Glasgow and the Holder brothers, Geoffrey and Boscoe: everyone connected to Trinidad would know who those artists are. Or Sybil Atteck, who studied under Max Beckmann in St Louis. She came back to Trinidad and had a great influence on the local scene.

AS In both of your work, figures come and go. Do you consider yourselves landscape painters?

PD When I meet people and they ask me what I do, I tell them I make paintings with figures, sometimes in a landscape. I think the figure is important; even if it’s not that apparent, there is the idea of a presence, of something human.

HA It’s interesting you answer it like that. For me, figuration is quite a broad term. I guess I want to be ambiguous. I still think a lot about abstraction. 

PD My relationship to the Caribbean is different to Hurvin’s because I lived in Trinidad as a young child. I moved there when I was two and I was there until I was seven and a half. My father was interested in oil painting. He’d go and see a lot of the local exhibitions and, on his somewhat meagre salary, managed to buy some works. The house where I grew up in Canada, later, was filled with paintings by Trinidadian artists. When I returned to Trinidad 33 years later, those names were still around. People like Carlisle Chang, Willi Chen, Leo Glasgow and the Holder brothers, Geoffrey and Boscoe: everyone connected to Trinidad would know who those artists are. Or Sybil Atteck, who studied under Max Beckmann in St Louis. She came back to Trinidad and had a great influence on the local scene. [. . .]

For full interview, see https://www.frieze.com/article/hurvin-anderson-and-peter-doig-meaning-caribbean

[Shown above: Peter Doig, “Cricket Painting” (Paragrand), 2006–12, oil on canvas, 3 × 2 m. Courtesy: © the artist and Michael Werner Gallery, New York/London.]

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