this issue contains
>> Drifter: An Interview with Peter Doig
>> Magical Mystery Tour
>> Interview Ilya and Emilia Kabakov
>> Time Travels: Abetz & Drescher

>> archive

 

If it's not about home, then maybe it's about temporal relations. Would you agree to what Walter Benjamin once called the hidden agreements between former and present times?

Peter Doig: 100 Years Ago, 2001, Deutsche Bank Collection


I don't think my paintings are reactionary in the way they look back. I hope they are about looking forward. I believe in the future of art, but not necessarily in the way it is told. I find a lot of work done 100 years ago more forward looking than what was done in the last ten years. It's hard to say what exactly makes the connections, though I see in them much more of a human experience.

Maybe it's the concept of the artist that lived one hundred years ago, when he was part of a bohemian scene rather than being a worker in today's image industry?

Yeah, they were obviously not that much connected to the art world, and I can't deny that this is what happens nowadays to me. When you leave the center, it takes you back to be an artist, and the anonymity you might find elsewhere is truly refreshing.


Peter Doig: Cementary Wall, 2003
Courtsey Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
Photo: Jochen Littkemann

Do you believe in utopian ideas, that when you paint something it will be more of a projection of the future than summing up what's already happened? I must say, I always thought that there was a strong link to melancholy in your work.

It's not that I feel all that melancholic. I'm depicting melancholic states, but not depression as a state of mind.

In interviews you often favor the figure of the drifter to describe what happens in your paintings - the phenomenon of not really getting lost, but just being undecided about which path to follow?

That's true, it's not about totally being in control.

Why do you put such emphasis on representing single persons in your paintings? Is there some sort of a precondition for them to drift?


Peter Doig: Lapeyrouse Umbrella, 2004
Courtsey Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
Photo: Jochen Littkemann

In certain cases there is. The guy with the umbrella is a person who drifts, I've seen him for a few times constantly moving around, rain or shine. So I wanted to paint the outline appearance of someone who is actually locked in his own thoughts. But how do you paint someone who's thinking without writing it down? You don't really know what's up in his mind, and for this reason you become a drifter on your own just watching it in the painting, being engaged to it. In his case I wanted to get the physicality of someone who's cracked. Interesting painters in the past have always used such figures as models or as types, without falling into sentimentality.

Physicality is also important when it comes to your representation of landscapes. You never use them as subjects with a higher spiritual or transcendental meaning, as many Romantic painters did. On the contrary, landscape always seems to be a concrete and limited area in your paintings.

Yeah, but then one shouldn't forget that Romantic paintings are pre-photographic, pre-film stuff. They had a different job to do for a different agenda. Since the fifties and sixties of the last century, there is no other responsibility than the space that is confined within the painting. I have to find out how the picture works, and making the thing is the most important of all, the execution to make it into a painting. I wouldn't do it otherwise, it's the act that is to be seen - when you paint something it becomes a fact. At the same time, it's a question of how much you let the material take over. When you look at Expressionist paintings, then you will find that with the less successful ones the action completely takes over. It's no more rooted in the decisions and considerations that you make as a painter, even though it might come out as reality.

Peter Doig: Purple Jesus (Black Rainbow), 2004 Courtsey Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Photo: Jochen Littkemann


Do you collect realities?

That's what we got used to with cinema. When you go to see a movie like Kill Bill by Quentin Tarrantino, you might easily get annoyed by what you see in terms of what happens in the movie. But then you think about it, you think about the reality that he's formed out of all these other non-realities, and finally you kind of succumb to it.

That reminds me of a quote from the London-based art critic Adrian Searle who described your work as "history painting as fancy dress, the scene as fake as a moustache stuck on with spirit gum." How important is this aspect of making things up, even staging situations for your work?

If you look at the two costumed figures represented in Gasthof, they are the gatekeepers to the world of painting. These are the people who allow you to disband your disbelief, like an entrance to a dream. For me they are dressed up like the Byrds, pretending to be from another time, although this could lead to a much too specific background, musically as well as historically. In the end, they are at the center of attraction while equally being out of time.

They are also witnesses - watching the spectator while he tries to enter their reality inside of the painting?

I am always interested in what we miss when we try to focus on what we see. For example, when you take a photo you will always feel a bit disappointed after the exposure, because it's never representing what you perceived when you took it.

When you use photos as patterns, do they shape or blur the subjects that you want to paint?

They do both, but then again it's all down to your personal taste, to what you find attractive or beautiful, whatever, shape, position … I could only describe it if we had a pile of photographs and we looked through it. In the end I use so few. For example, when I did this guru-type figure in By the River, I had a badly printed postcard with a river scene somewhere in India, where the actual person was less than thumbnail-sized. When I blew it up, it just turned into dots.

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