Peter Doig review: Challenging imagery casts new light on Caribbean life

Jochen Littkemann
Jochen Littkemann

Peter Doig’s latest paintings don’t follow the rules. There are extreme spatial distortions, colliding colours, disparate painterly languages, an uneven focus and level of finish. There’s none of the easy pleasure often associated with Doig’s work.

Much of the imagery is inspired by Trinidad, where Doig lives. A male bather is based on a photograph of Robert Mitchum, who visited Trinidad, but also evokes an image of Doig on the island as a child. A lion in the zoo and images of the Rastafari Lion of Judah seen on the streets are set against the exterior walls of Port of Spain’s prison. In two paintings, Doig pictures a policeman pushing a wheelchair in which a one-legged man sits. Musicians appear, including the Calypso performer the Mighty Shadow in a skeleton costume.

You don’t have to know the sources of Doig’s imagery — these aren’t riddles to be solved. But the paintings are undoubtedly redolent of Doig’s experience in the Caribbean — the people, the natural and built environment but also the light, with mostly daylight imagery on one floor here and night scenes in the room below. Moods vary even within a single painting, though much of it’s eerie or ominous.

As always with Doig, these are partly paintings about painting, with nods to Van Gogh’s Yellow House, to a painting of a Maine bather by Marsden Hartley, to the Haitian painter Hector Hippolyte. I keep glimpsing bits of Bonnard. They’re often awkward, yet a wonderful painterly fluidity abounds in these canvases, a sense of an artist pushing his medium.

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