Peter Doig review — in an enchanting world of his own

A report by Chloe Ashby for London’s Times.

Pity the fellow who follows Donatello — or so I thought, after kicking off my week at the V&A’s standout show. I needn’t have worried. Peter Doig’s art pulsates in a world of its own. At the Courtauld are 12 paintings and 20 works on paper, the former up on the third floor, the latter down below. In between is the gallery’s starry collection of impressionist and post-impressionist canvases, whose makers have long been Doig’s heroes. You can see the influence of Cézanne in his Bather (2019-23), a nearly bare boy in a watery landscape, wearing nothing but reddish briefs, rubbing his hands. Also in his Alpinist (2019-22), a wintry work of epic proportions whose diamond-patterned snow suit recalls Picasso’s harlequins.

There are shades of Picasso in Peter Doig’s Alpinist, 2022

There are shades of Picasso in Peter Doig’s Alpinist, 2022

Since relocating to London in 2021, Doig has been developing paintings he started back in Trinidad (his home of 20 years) and further afield. It’s tempting to draw connections between the creative process, which unfolded across time and space, and the slippery nature of the work. But then his art has always been ambiguous. Mixing memories, observations, experiences, life, art, music and film, he conjures up visions that are as unsettling as they are beguiling.

At the Courtauld bathers stretch out beneath a luminous night sky, their milky blue skin soaking up the moonlight. A ghostly green boat drifts by on a frothy sea, musicians on board, not fishermen. Two self-portraits show the artist in his Trinidad studio, and Doig’s wife is here too, riding side-saddle on a donkey, her downward gaze mirroring the mule’s. His daughter lounges in a luminous hammock cloaked with greenery, while his young son — who appears as I’m looking around, and beams at his painted self before asking “whyyyyy?” he has to keep his fingers off the walls — is pictured at the breakfast table with a fried egg, double-yolked.

Peter Doig’s Night Studio (Studiofilm and Racquet Club), 2015

Peter Doig’s Night Studio (Studiofilm and Racquet Club), 2015

The personal connections continue downstairs, with an intimate series of etchings Doig made inspired by his friend the Nobel prizewinning poet Derek Walcott, who also spent time in Trinidad. There’s lots to admire here, not least the range of tones and textures the artist has achieved on paper. But as I pass between them, I find my thoughts straying.

Not far — just back up the stairs, through the gallery’s Great Room, to Doig’s paintings, looming large, humming with colour and with life. It’s their world, enchanting and strange, that I find myself drawn to again and again.
February 10 to May 29,

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