Peter Doig at The Courtauld

Peter Doig is an exciting artist—in fact, he is one of the most celebrated and important figurative painters working today. Born in Scotland in 1959, he moved with his family to Trinidad, then Canada, and later studied in London. In 2000 he was invited to return to Trinidad with his friend, artist Chris Ofili, and was so inspired he moved there permanently with his wife and children, until relocating recently to London.

His paintings focus on both landscapes and the human figure, melding them into evocative and often haunting compositions which are painterly and almost abstract. “I’m not trying to make paintings look like photos,” he has said of his process. “I want to make paintings using photos as a reference, the way painters did when photography was first invented.”

Painting on an Island. The setting is the prison island of Carrera, off the coast of Trinidad. Learning that some of the inmates were painters, Doig helped organise an annual exhibition of their work in Port of Spain.

I went to see his newest work, which is exhibited at The Courtauld in London. These are paintings that have evolved over a number of years, as he explores a rich variety of places, people, memories and ways of painting. Perhaps they are not his best work, but there is still that haunting quality, stark imagery and wonderfully strong palette to admire.

House of Music (Soca boat) Based on a photo of fishermen holding up their catch, Doig painted the men as musicians.

Their location at The Courtauld is also interesting because the permanent collection contains wonderful works that have been important inspiration for the artist, by artists such as Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Van Gogh. It was interesting to consider Doig’s contemporary works in the light of these masterpieces.

This painting was started in the Alps, but is inspired by Doig’s time in Canada

The Courtauld is also showcasing the artist’s work as a printmaker with a display that unveils for the first time a series of prints Doig made in response to the poetry of his friend and collaborator, the late Derek Walcott (1930-2017).

Portrait of Derek Walcott

As a footnote, I will add that Doig’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others. In 2007, his painting White Canoe sold at Sotheby’s for $11.3 million, then an auction record for a living European artist.

White canoe

The Morgan Stanley Exhibition at The Courtauld is on until May 29