Peter Doig
The Tate Britain
Until 27 April 2008

Peter Doig’s mid-career retrospective appears in the Tate Britain, which emphatically claims the painter as a Brit. But he has lived much more of his life elsewhere, in Canada and Trinidad – an important detail, because the vast majority of the 50 odd paintings in the exhibition are of either Canada or Trinidad.

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Art School, one of the first paintings you encounter, is set in the woods, amidst strange creatures, flannel, and snow. It’s far from his best work – he painted it while he was still at Chelsea for school in the early 1990s. But it’s telling that he would paint a wooded winter and call it Art School.

Peter Doig. The House That Jacques Built 1992. Oil on canvas. © The Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London He seems to resent the institutionalisation, or more properly the commercialisation, of his art. Perhaps this is why he is so reactionary, going from Easter pale and bright to languid greens and blues, from mountains to thin shadows dressed as bats.

It is often mentioned that Doig’s work has a dream-like quality to it, which is thoroughly true. In dreams the impossible seems unflinchingly reasonable; the same can be said of Doig’s odd reflections and patches of paint and curious human forms.

Peter Doig. Reflection (What does your soul look like) 1996. Oil on canvas. 295 x 200. ©The Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, LondonThe galleries are densely hung, at Doig’s insistence, especially in the later rooms. You get the sense he’d almost prefer his retrospective to be housed in a log cabin, but he won’t get that. Last year, his painting White Canoe went for UKP5.7 million, which was, at the time, the highest price paid for a painting by a living, European artist. So his work comes not to snowy cabins or tropical huts but to the pristine walls of Tate.

The exhibition is in a sort of chronological order. In the centre is an overwhelming collection of Doig’s drafts on paper. There’s too much to investigate each one, but seeing how a painting evolves in his mind, which details are held and which are discarded, gives further substance to the completed works.

Peter Doig. Milk Way, 1989/90. Oil on canvas. 152 x 204. © Courtesy of the Arts and Vicotria Miro Gallery, LondonWhen you are standing in front of a Peter Doig painting, it’s best to avoid thinking about the story. What came before, what will come after, and indeed what is happening at that moment are all irrelevant, and thinking too much about it will cause you to miss the point. Besides, you’re likely to get it wrong – a reddish silhouette striding through a warmly coloured farm was inspired by a drug-dealing youth.

Instead, think of each work as a state of mind. Memories of getting lost, your first flat, or that camping trip in the mountains are not so much defined by the tangible specifics but by a sort of fuzzy, gut sensation. That’s what Doig is painting.

– Kiernan Maletsky