Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Echo Lake 2305 x 3605 x 50 mm
 Tate Britain

When I first saw Doig’s work in 2008,
I wrote:
I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.
-except that I substituted 'Peter Doig' for Dr Fell'.
The verse was said to be made up on the spot when the 17C satirist, Tom Brown, was threatened with expulsion from his Oxford college by the Dean, Dr Fell. It's a translation from Latin: 'Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere - quare; Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te'.
Brown was forgiven.
I went on to write what I didn't like:
  •  your saccharine, chemical colours
  •  your eerie  ordinariness
  •  the way your refer to things I've never heard of
  •  the solitude and abandonment
  •  above all your open-mindedness so that, unlike in a history painting, the viewer has to provide the story.
A year later I changed my mind  after seeing Hill Houses, the second picture below. I can't include it as my chosen picture as I don't know where it is at the moment, so have chosen Doig's Echo Lake at Tate Britain.

It’s difficult to do justice to such a  large painting  when here  it's scrunched up into an image measuring a few centimetres. We have a man in a white shirt,  dark tie and trousers, who has stepped into the edge of the lake and his ankles are sending ripples which disturb the gloomy stillness of the water. They are spreading towards us. The low perspective gives us the unsettling feeling we are looking back at him from the surface of the lake, rather than the safety of the distant shore. The man’s arms are raised to his head as if he’s shouting into the night. His pale face is blank, mask-like. Some may be reminded of Munch’s The Scream.
This pastoral scene is disturbed by a sinister  American police car which squats behind the man and to the left. It too appears to look out onto this lake of strange, earthy browns. Those who know about such things say that Echo Lake is  loosely based on scenes from the 1980s horror film Friday the 13th. Doig  sometimes paints from photographs, including his own, and  uses film, posters, post cards and album covers. He also makes reference to art history. Nothing too specific - more a hazy collective memory. 

The bottom half of the painting is a blurred mirror image of the land above: an echo. Images reflected in water are common in Doig’s paintings. He has observed that ‘reflections function as entrances to other worlds’ .

He writes ‘Often I am trying to create a ‘numbness’...something that is questionable, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to put into words ... I think the paintings always refer back to a reality that we all have experience of...'
Hill Houses
My conversion in 2009 began when I saw Hill Houses, part of the British Council Collection: ‘a frosty mirage that whiffs of narrative and memory, beckoning beyond the unframed canvas to something as un-contemporary as Monet's Water Lilies...through the mistiness, the view takes us by surprise, as if swooping into the windscreen of a car as it races over the skyline. The road, a big vertical stripe, ought to guide us into the scene, but instead forefronts the flatness of the picture plane. Telegraph poles are blurry, not so much pacing out the landscape as shimmying across it. Only in the top third is distance suggested - pinprick windows, a tail-flick of road. It is a meeting ground for the sublime and the kitsch, where sentimental markers, those marzipan houses and fairytale pines, effectively strike a match against the terror of the wilderness’. 

I'm grateful to Dorothy Feaver for that quotation. She speaks about the painting  brilliantly on:

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