Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017

© George Whiteside

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Peter Doig's many canvases and countries

People and places engender impressions in the mind that time and memory alter. Unlike most of us, Peter Doig works with these accumulated images to create works on paper, canvas and linen. The hundreds of paintings he’s produced have made him very famous. White Canoe (1990) and The Architect’s Home in the Ravine (1991) sold at auction in London last year for $10.5 million and $12.5 million, respectively. Both pictures share Canadian roots but as he says, “I want it to be more of an imaginary place -- a place that's somehow a wilderness.”

Doig chose Edinburgh and Montreal – two cities where he grew up – as the venues the extraordinary No Foreign Lands exhibit. On now through May 4 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mbam.qc.ca), the show is housed in the original classical building on the north side of Sherbrooke Street. Doig insisted on the venue – it’s where his father took him to look at pictures when he was a kid. No Foreign Lands is a big, colourful show that covers the period 2002 to the present with over 40 works from large canvases to small sketches.

Appropriately the show’s title is taken from an observation made by novelist and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) that “there are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” Like Stevenson, Doig is another Scot of huge imagination who’s spent much of his life in other places.

Born in Edinburgh in 1959, the family moved to Trinidad when he was three and then came to Canada when he was seven. In 1979 he went to art school in London and rented a studio there. He made Montreal his base in the mid-'80s and travelled extensively. He kept the London studio from his student days and, in 1989, moved back to the UK. In 2002 he relocated to Trinidad where he currently lives.


MONTREAL Like most kids growing up in Quebec, Doig skied, skated and was a Canadiens hockey fan. He was thrilled when, a few days before No Foreign Lands opened, Guy Lafleur presented him with an Yvan Cournoyer sweater. You can feel a blowing wind in some of the work this country has inspired, among them Blizzard (’77); Ski Lift (’97); Ski Jacket (’94); Ski Hill (’97), an oil on two canvases based on a photo in a Japanese newspaper; and Alpiniste a small blue drypoint done in 2007.


TORONTO A canoe floating on a northern lakes hundreds of years ago; cold empty cottages abandoned at the end of summer; melting sheets of ice against a bank of trees; a multimillion dollar house in a ravine half hidden in a forest. The painter knows Ontario like a memory of itself.


TRINIDAD Doig is a painter’s painter. His style is bold. He uses colour and brush strokes with the same confidence shown by the Impressionists. There are echoes in his work of Matisse, Edward Munch, Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard. When he arrived in Trinidad, the exotic landscape, the palm trees and thick undergrowth made him nervous. He feared he might be seen as a mere tourist. He need not have worried. Twelve years on, his work shows how easily he transcended those insecurities. He continues to paint from photographs as always and, here as elsewhere, the people and places emerge fresh, alive, as though he has knows them in his bones. The huge landscapes vibrate with colour and exuberance and become softer, the edges blur. The enormous leaves and vines, the shining water, the carnival goer with his gigantic bat wings draw the viewer in the way travel can.

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