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Magic Realism, Peter Doig paints Canada, London and Trinidad

The ambiguity in art to arouse curiosity, the interpretation from the audience, the themes that have taken place throughout Peter Doig’s art endeavors

In the 1860s, few Paris-based artists spearheaded Impressionism, to encapsulate the transient and definition of the sun at the speed of light and in time, en plein air, the open air. In the 1880s, Post-Impressionism reacted to Impressionism and its depiction of light and color, the reception of emphasizing forms of geometry and distortion to harbor the assertions of the artist. In the 1900s, the formation of Die Brücke, the bridge, composed of Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Fritz Bleyl, commenced Expressionism, the distortion, primitivism and elaboration, the violence, vividness and dynamism in the application of elements. In the 1920s, the merge of history and contemporary unraveled through Magic Realism, the discovery and exploration of eccentricity, the juxtaposition and eeriness, to counteract the subjectivity. Here we find the foundation of Peter Doig’s paintings (Doig was born in 1959). Doig moved to Trinidad at the age of two, to Montreal in Canada at the age of seven, went to Scotland, his birth country, to attend a boarding school which he left after three years, drawn from his dissatisfaction, returned to Montreal, and moved to Toronto, the strife in his education persisted. The impermanence of his house and address in his childhood perseveres in his adulthood, his inability to reside in a house beyond three months during the period corroborates, the absence of belonging in the community and self. At seventeen, he dropped out of school and pursued a stint as a worker on a gas drilling rig, the cycle compelled him to tinker with a sketchbook as a pastime, regardless of his virginity in drawing. In 1979, he enrolled at Wimbledon School of Art in London for a foundation course, a technician in the print department herded him to consider painting. The following year, he accepted the offer at Central Saint Martins’ School of Art amidst the absence of his proficiency in drawing, his teacher showed his illustration in front of the class and declared it as the worst he had seen. 

During his sophomore year, Doig turned to photography to bridge the dearth of his craftsmanship in drawing, capturing images from publications, experimenting on compositions as he projected the photos through a pen on a canvas to trail the shapes of the photographs before veering to charcoal and paint applied at the drop of a hat, harnessing his exploration and liberation in style. In 1986, three years after his graduation, he and Bonnie Kennedy, his then wife, visited his parents in Grafton, a town on Lake Ontario, for Christmas and stayed in Montreal for years after Kennedy had lost her job and they had wedded. Doig would drop by his parents’ home where he had installed his studio in the barn, and a night in 1987, he caught Sophie, his sister, watching Friday the 13th. In Sean S. Cunningham’s movie, Mrs. Voorhees, the mother of the antagonist, narrated to Alice, the protagonist, that her son had drowned before revealing herself as the killer. She attempted to kill Alice, but failed as Alice decapitated her. She then boarded and fell asleep in a canoe on Crystal Lake and became startled as Jason’s corpse attacked her from behind. One’s memory processes retention over time, the engine of the human cognition, through the characterization of encoding, the absorption of information. Storage, the reason, place, weight and length of the information’s retainment. Retrieval, the salvaging of information between short-term, the encoding through auditory for fifteen to thirty seconds of up to five to nine articles of remembrance, and long-term, the association with semantics without a storage duration and with infinity of cache. In practice, the retrospection of the bizarreness in the scenes of Friday the 13th provoked Doig to return to his studio in the barn on the same night and paint, the aftermath foresaw the commencement of the canoe’s appearance in his paintings, a remembrance of the movie, a birth of a recurrence. 

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Dior Man Winter 2021 Backstage, Ph Afredo Piola

Doig and Kennedy returned to London in 1989, the year the artist studied at Chelsea School of Art at the age of thirty and six years after he had declined the offer of a graduate course for a year, the period of Young British Artists’ rise, the entrance of tactics to shock the audience with imageries of violence, pornography and boundaries of decency and the movement of Damien Hirst, formaldehyde in shark, and Tracey Emin, a tent peppered with names of the people she had slept with. During the storm of the Young British Artists, Doig’s visuals remained far from the trend as he dabbled in oil paintings of landscape, influences of homes in Canada against the apartments and complexes in London, yearned to conjure a place of imagination, a wilderness, and worked on his pieces during and post his graduate course. Milky Way. A forest before a lake at night in winter where the trees’ branches curve, the reflection in the water inverts the image, the snowflakes drizzle. Young Bean Farmer. Isolation and anonymity in personas and imageries, two villas in white walls and red roofs on the land by themselves, barricaded with barbed wires, while a shadow walks across the area, the tree branches with snowflakes. Images in the newspaper and postcards as Doig’s influences, combined with the objects he caught sight of every day and the art of the present and past. The canoe appears in Jetty, the reference to Friday the 13th. It floats on the lake with no passengers, a shadow stands on the walkway towards the lake, and the evergreens barring a part of the scenery, to view the art from the sky. The ambiguity in art, as studied at University of Bamberg in Germany, arouses one’s curiosity and engrossment, to refrain from solving the riddles of the art, but to form insights in the process of viewing, as the resolution and to grasp the artwork’s intention do not necessitate. The ambiguity haunts and encourages interpretation from the audience, themes that have taken place throughout Doig’s art endeavors.

Unité d’Habitation à Briey-en-Forêt. The architecture as the residential project in the forest of Briey in France, the city positions at the North-East of the country, to house the population of the iron mines and steel industries. In 1955, a decade after the conclusion of the Second World War, Le Corbusier, the chief architect, and André Wogenscky, operations architect, modeled it to Cité Radieuse de Rezé, the building displayed cubes with innings from the exterior and dwarf rooms as the interior, and the architecture stood at 110 meters long, fifty-six meters high and nineteen meters wide with 339 duplex across seventeen floors and six inner streets. In 1961, the tenants arrived. In 1973, the tenants abandoned the apartments after the closure of the mines and recession of the economy. In the 1980s, the municipality of Briey salvaged the property and transformed it into a condominium. In 1991, Doig painted Concrete Cabin, the first in the series, after his visit to the site, where pillars of tree trunks and mud on the land encompass the frame, a peek to Unité d’Habitation filters through the gaps. When Doig stopped by, he angled his camera to video and photograph the disorientation in the woods before the glimpse of the building. Flecks of white spots, the snow, cover the tree trunks in the woods, the visibility of Unité d’Habitation comes in white, red and yellow, the aftermath of Concrete Cabin II. In Cabin Essence, trees pave a way for a canopy of tendrils, their black and brown hues concealing the white condominium ahead. The building fades and appears among the forest in Doig’s series, the friction between the foreground and background, and the contrast of colors and brushstrokes. Between 1993 and 1994, Doig painted Canada from his studio in London. In Pond Life, the trees, colored blue, act as the background to the residence in the foreground, in yellow and red, and the rink where the ice reflects the entirety of the art while three figures skate around the platform, the artist’s homage to Canada. Two panels of canvas to complete Ski Jacket, the portrayal of a ski resort and scroll painting in Japan where a crowd skis on a scroll, a tradition hangs the scripture on the walls. From then, Doig has founded esteem. 

He received the John Moores Prize in 1993 for Blotter, a figure in a blue jacket, orange headband and khaki pants cocks on the rink that has thawed, behind the character a mountain of snow and the woods with trees devoid of leaves. His mediums ranged between acrylic, pencil, pastel, oil charcoal, sugar, ink, and watercolor, transitioning into fluid pigments to manifest smudges and obscurity, a practice he has adopted since moving to Trinidad in 2002. Five years after his transfer, Doig has garnered prominence over his figurative art, the references to reality and human figures. In 2007, Doig’s White Canoe, his painting between 1990 and 1991 where a canoe hovers over a lake at the core of the canvas, creating a distinction between the foreground and background, sold for $11.2 million at Sotheby’s in London. In 2013, his The Architects Home in the Ravine, painted in 1991 where white lines attempt to conceal the residence in the background among orange trunks of trees, sold for $11.9 million at Christie’s in London. In 2014, Gasthof, his artwork between 2002 and 2004 while he thought of Europe in Trinidad, two gatekeepers in nineteenth century costumes, one in a sentinel uniform and the other in a Pope’s robe, pose for a portrait, the art sold for $17 million at Christie’s in London. In 2015, Swamped, his painting in 1990, a white canoe on the surface of smudges in red, orange, yellow, green, brown and white and before a forest of trees in streaks of green, sold for $25.9 at Christie’s in New York. 

In 2021, Kim Jones, Dior Men’s artistic director and an alumnus of Central Saint Martins, collaborated with Doig for the Autumn and Winter anthology of the house’s menswear. In the collection, nuances of Doig infiltrate the compendium. Gasthof painting tones down to silhouettes and in gray as a coat in ash and white, Milky Way reverts its color to blue and white as a coat, the presence of his figurative art and magic realism practice in jackets, hats and sweaters, and his palettes of earth, mauve, blue and navy throughout the series, the fusion of Dior and Jones’ fashion and Doig’s art. Since 2015, Doig has resided in Trinidad with his partner Parinaz Mogadassi and their daughter Echo, after the end of his twenty-four years of marriage with Kennedy, the death of his father and the conclusion of the court case against him over the attribution to a painting titled 1976 Pete Doige, the judgement affirmed he did not have anything to do with the artwork. Between the time he picked up a sketchbook bereft of skills in drawing to his collaboration with Dior and Kim Jones, Peter Doig has nurtured realism, referenced Friday the 13th, painted Canada, London and Trinidad, and demonstrated the relevance of snow, trees, rinks, architectures and figures drawn in smudges.


Peter Doig is a Scottish artist renowned for his techniques in figurative art and magic realism. He has lived in Trinidad, London and Canada, his influences in his art. During his studies at Central Saint Martins and Chelsea School of Art in London, he developed landscape painting by applying paint to the canvas and using abstract elements to showcase the everyday objects and life.