Some notes from my recent visit to PETER DOIG at the Michael Werner gallery in London.
Split between four rooms over two stories, the exhibition marks a refreshing and exciting approach to contemporary art exhibitions whilst offering a valuable and rare insight into the work and processes of a leading contemporary painter.
What marks this exhibition out from many other contemporary art exhibitions, Jules de Balincourt a timely example, which can currently be seen at the Victoria Miro down the road on St Georges St (I happened to see this show prior to my visit to the Michael Werner) – is the consideration, and placing of Doig’s recent large canvases within the context of the body of work from which they resulted. Alongside a context of the ‘workings-out’ that gave birth to these pieces. This is not to say De Balincourt is not successful, on the contrary, the show marks a striking statement of his current practice, only that the body of work on display here is exhibited in a traditional conventional manor.
Two of the larger rooms at Michael Werner are dedicated to a particular painting each, whilst the other rooms present a wider overview of some of Doig’s concerns and themes. These paintings, housed in the aforementioned rooms, are very large and clearly signify the resolvent and fulfilment of a series of themes and a body of work. Sitting alongside however, and appropriately accompanying these canvases are a myriad of preparatory work; sketches, studies, experiments and watercolours, in a range of scales, sizes and medium all mapping the thought processes and development of Doig’s painting.
What is particularly striking within these rooms, is not necessarily the large canvases that immediately capture your attention, but the more modestly scaled accompanying work. Ambiguous and intruiging forms draw your gaze and begin to register as familiar figures and shapes. Scanning the room unfolds a context and narrative that quickly establishes itself, along with a dialogue that emerges between the pieces, revealing the origins of these forms and figures. Most arresting with these pieces however, is the raw quality they poses, often crudely executed and unfinished they speak with a profound assuredness.
What is poignant here is not the quality of these pieces but the essence of what they represent. They embody the creative process and are the product of an artist who is majorly at ease with himself and his practice, and an artist who understands drawing for essentially exactly what it is – a tool for information gathering. Each of these pieces offer a contribution to the finished canvases and represent something acquired; an element of composition, a choice or balance of colour, the pose or stance of a figure, they all contribute something to the finished canvas and represent a process of learning that Doig has embarked upon and traversed.
The other rooms mark a combination of larger finished works and other smaller studies, many of which do not relate or denote to each other. The hanging of these pieces, often grouped together in cloud-like formations, analogous with brain-storms and ‘mind-maps’ beautifully embodies the spirt of the exhibition, their placing in different and odd frames portrays the nature of the work whilst pointing to their potential contributions to something larger.
What makes this show so successful is not necessarily the insight it offers into the work of Doig himself, although valuable and insightful it is, but rather a rare glimpse into the working practices and thought processes of a painter, and required of the practice of painting itself. Too often in galleries we see the polished resolvent of an idea, beautifully articulated onto pristine canvases, but never the learning, and more often than not the struggle that was endured in the teasing out of an image and its concerns. Although much to be admired, there is only so much to be learnt and gained from such finished paintings. As scholars of the medium it is so much more informing and rewarding to see the struggles through the pieces that bear witness to them, and the studies that embody the process of creation.
Sketches, studies and preparatory work often marks an artists most intimate and vulnerable output and indeed is rarely created with a view to be exhibited. As such, full marks must go to both the Michael Werner gallery and to Peter Doig himself. Michael Werner for their innovative and exciting approach to the body of work and curation of the exhibition, and to Doig himself for being so open with the body of work, for it to be considered, appreciated and admired.
PETER DOIG: Michael Werner ran between 19th December 2017 – 17th February 2018. Michael Werner, Mayfair, London.