Artistfacts: Peter Doig

Artistfacts: Peter Doig

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Peter Doig is a wonderful cosmopolitan painter- cosmopolitan because he was born in Edinburgh, the son of a Sri Lanka born Scotsman employed by an international shipping company. Peter Doig was raised in Trinidad and Canada, received his artistic education in England and is now living once again in Trinidad while teaching in Germany and he integrates all of these cultures into his work. Most importantly though he is a brilliantly expressive and lush painter, one who is often in the art world described as a painter’s painter and whose work I would described as bewitching, captivating and unique, as with a painting by Munch, his works are immediately recognizable as his and his alone.


Peter Doig is a figurative and representative painter but his imagery though recognizable tends to be veiled, blurred and elusive as do the people populating the canvases. The perspective is disjointed. The world created dreamlike, ambiguous  and at times discomforting.  The blurring adds a sense of movement, of the fourth dimension, of time.


Peter Doig uses photos, movie scenes and works by other artists as a reference or inspiration in his work but he is not trying to recreate the image in the photograph or in fact to create a realistic image at all, on the contrary, these works are layered, frosted or out of focus images with lush, sometimes off kilter or acidic color.

Though the works could be timeless and universally located, almost romantic often a small detail will place it in time or place such as the policeman in Echo Lake where the viewer is placed in the middle of the lake, possibly the person being yelled at by the policeman


or the fire hydrant in Lapeyrouse Wall


At the same time, certain details are so out of kilter with the narrative of the painting they cause the viewer to do a double take or a deeper dive into the dream like quality of the images such as the hockey player in Two Trees a painting clearly set in the Caribbean.


There are several persistent images in his works, primarily cabins, canoes, snow, lakes, bodies of water. These draw on the memories of the painter and tend to evoke memories often of childhood of the viewer. Memory thus plays an important part but the memory as filtered through these layered  images allows for a more universal interpretation.


He is not a prolific painter, with each work taking a very long time, sometimes 4 to 5 years. Technically the application of paint is magnificent and the  color choices bright and engaging.  He works on many paintings at the same time and seems to work on topics in series.  Although there is a backstory to each painting, knowledge of that story or of the title is in now way important to the appreciation and enjoyment of the work.

The trees or the snow falling provide a strong vertical strength and create the veil or barrier through which the viewer must gaze to see the subject of the work.The “fuzziness” of that image distorts its reality. You are adrift, in-between worlds, between the real and the imaginary.

Peter Doig has used paint diluted with lots of turpentine among other techniques to achieve that look.  He starts a work with a collage or an etching, reenacting or recreating a memory. The paint applications range from fluid, ephemeral, to thick globules of pigment or splatters.



In the earlier paintings,  the people have no identifiable expression but the overall mood of the works is very romantic.  It is difficult to figure out what is going on in the head of the person being painted or what they are doing in that location. This seems to be evolving in newer works in particular those that represent friends which offer a closer, I would say loving look.

Peter Doig’s goal is to create a lasting mood that does not dissipate with subsequent viewings. The narrative is not important, the atmosphere is and he is wildly successful at doing this. I love absolutely every single one of his works and I look forward to many years of having the pleasure of losing myself in them.

Gallery representation Michael Werner





Artistfacts: Paola Pivi

Artistfacts: Paola Pivi the creator of absurd but beautiful and poetic worlds.

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Paola Pivi is an Italian, multimedia artist based in Alaska.  She works in photography, sculpture, performance art,conceptual art and video. Her works are poetic and enigmatic associations. They will make you smile, potentially laugh, and want to engage further with the works. She has said that the ideas for the works come in visions to her and she then makes those visions real.

Paola Pivi creates an experiential playground in which animals- sometimes live- are a critical element as she finds that people have an instinctive reaction to animals be it fear or attraction.  She often puts these animals into odd situations as with the donkey in a small boat that she presented at the Venice Biennale where she won the Golden Lion Award in 1999.



The alligators in pits of whipped cream

The zebras in the snowy mountains


The horses on the eiffel tower


Or my all-time favorite, the leopard with the expresso cups entitled:” One cup of cappuccino then I go”


These are not photoshopped images. Paolo Pivi sets up these surreal, absurd situations placing animals in unfamiliar, insane situations and then, often working with photographer Hugo Glendinning captures them for posterity. How the animals react within these situations is an important part of the performance.

She has also orchestrated performances pieces with people as opposed to animals as with  “1,000 “where 1000 people screamed one scream in one breath, unrehearsed in the Tate Modern London 2009 and with “100 chinese” 1998 and 2005 (50 only) from her time living in China

However the pieces she is most known for I think and that are the most compelling are the neon bears. These pieces have titles that draw you in  such as:

  • Ok you are better than me , so what?
  • It’s not fair?
  • Don’t change my name please.
  • Life is great.
  • Have you seen me before.

All of these will bring a smile to your face. The titles put the viewer in a mood of being receptive and interacting without the artist giving any direction. Interestingly enough she generally does not come up with the titles, they are given by her husband, the tibetan composer and poet Karma Lama. IMG_0801


The bears became an important part of her life and her work when she moved to Alaska. The bear is the largest animal that can eat a human. Her bears are multicolored and covered with feathers, moving, flying, dancing and at play. They are made of urethane foam and plastic and covered with feathers.


Continuing on her ability to get the viewer to interact with the works and her strength in using absurd titles to entrance that same viewer into laughter and acceptance, she has made such pieces as:

“If you like it thank you, if you don’t like it I’m sorry but appreciate it any way.” Gates covered in rhinestones that the viewer must go around.

A performance piece using only white animals that viewers were led through entitled:”My religion is kindness, Thank you, see you in the future.”


Guitar, guitar that evoked Noah’s ark with all the objects paired two by two.

Finally, she has made smaller sculptures using rotating wheels with feathers of various birds that look a bit like dreamcatchers of the American Indian and are a commentary on time, the animal, movement,

And a series of drooping pearl wall sculptures that are probably influenced by her time in India while she was fighting for custody of her adopted son. I find these less poetic than some of her other works though still beautiful.


However, I must leave you with one more image of the bears, would you not love to join his leap of joy?







Artistfacts: Anselm Kiefer

Artistfacts: Anselm Kiefer


He is not a young, to be discovered, recently discovered or up and coming artist, so a slight digression from my prior posts.  On the contrary, Anselm Kiefer is a world renowned German painter and sculptor, born in 1945.

His sculptures and paintings are generally massive, incorporating lead, straw, books, ashes, dried flowers and plants, clothing, miniature model ships, planes. The themes are wide ranging- German history, fables, myths, history, music, poetry, the horror of the holocaust, alchemy…


Recent exhibits have included romantic watercolors and a number of artist books and these pieces were a discovery for me. I am writing about him today as he is an artist I absolutely adore and I want to share with you my passion for him.

I think some viewers are distressed by the content of his works, in particular how much of the imagery he is looking at was part of the fascist and nationalistic propaganda of Nazi Germany. He also incorporates many of the elements or weapons of war, battle ships and airplanes. His palate is largely gray. The scale is massive. He is not using art to redeem or hide the past.


He is identified as a German artist and he originally focused on German identity and its dealing with its Nazi past. This was an important aspect of his earliest works, in particular those displayed at the Venice Biennale in 1980, two of which from the Tate is shown below where he is paints or photographs himself doing the Nazi salute. Anselm Kiefer was born in the last year of the Second World War and grew up in a destroyed, bombed out Germany that wanted to forget what had just occurred.


I would describe him rather as a historical, and philosophical painter. In Anselm Kiefer’s work he deals with time,  human existence, continuity,  hope and despair, memory and heritage.

He not only deals with historical memory and the need to take responsibilities for past action, he also forces the viewer to face  the universal theme of the enticement and possible inevitability of evil, of who they might have been in different circumstances, the deeper meaning, the need to make sense of the world, why one is here and how one got here.

Kiefer has said, ” creation and destruction are one and the same”. But these are not dark visions, there is an energy and upwelling of hope also.  The paintings of flowers, part of the Morgenthau series are beautiful and color filled, the title however provides the negative, bleak connotation since knowledge of the Morgenthau plan, to turn Germany into an agricultural society, provided the Nazis with the impetus for continued fighting.  There is always this push and pull evident in the works.


Anselm Kiefer is an intellectual, poetic and historical painter. His works incorporate elements of Wagner’s Ring Circle, the poetry of Paul Celan and Rilke, the Old and New Testaments, Norse mythology, the Kabbalah, the occult, ancient civilizations. Image Valhalla from White Cube.

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Words appear throughout, difficult to decipher but clearly present to draw you into further study. Kiefer has said that he had to choose between being a writer and a painter. When you listen to him speak he is constantly quoting poetry, stating that at one time he knew more than 200 poems.


Watercolor is an old medium for Anselm Kiefer, I just was not familiar with it. These watercolors were actually begun in 1970 and are a counter to the dark, larger paintings. They show beautiful, naiad figures of women, beckoning, enticing, sexual, erotic.

Several of his works, in particular the larger ones incorporate lead, ” I feel closest to lead because it is like us,” Kiefer has said. “It’s changeable and has potential to achieve a higher state of gold.” It also is a poisonous material and when used as he does in the form of books, may reference the weight and contamination of history. Kiefer has stated that history is like clay, it can be abused and molded. He acquired an obsolete lead roof of the Cologne Cathedral and has used it in his works.


The works often also incorporate sunflower. As a young man he was fascinated by Van Gogh. But Anselm’s sunflowers are dead, dried up, full of seeds. They represent death and rebirth.


His pictures are thick with paint- impasto- and embedded with objects.  Layers are added one atop the other to create a thick layer of paint that he then hacks out. The process of making the paintings itself integrate the concept of composition and destruction. He at times uses electrolyses or a flame thrower to alter the works. He likes how the works change with time and the effect of nature, gravity.


His oeuvre also includes sculptures and vitrines. They too are fascinating and deserve their own blog post.  Interestingly, his first collectors were American, better able to deal with the narrative. He has created immersive, massive studio spaces that are worlds of their own at  Barjac France and  Croissy Beaubourg.  I am ending this with images of those two studios from a wonderful documentary ” Remembering the Future” , a book Anselm Kiefer Ateliers by Daniele Cohn and another by Phaidon.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow


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