Friday, October 20, 2006

Grande Riviere by Peter Doig

See the actual picture in colour

This is a scribble in ballpoint after a painting called Grande Rivière by Peter Doig. The real picture is at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Doig painted it in 2001-2002 from photographs and memory after a visit to Trinidad in 2000. The colour is quite vivid, approximating what the actual colours would be in nature but intensified and peculiar, especially the strange deep blue of the foreground water. Most striking to me are the dense background vegetation, the sickly ghostly coconut tree on the right about to keel over and die (its fronds have lost their spring and curl and are hanging straight down), and the dejected white pony at mid left surrounded by a flock of corbeaux (vultures). It’s not clear whether it’s day or night – what looks like a night sky at upper left could be more dense vegetation on a hill in the distance. To me the painting has a threatening feeling, reminding me of scenes from Conrad’s tropical short stories which usually ended tragically, with the tropical surroundings and people bringing out the main character’s fatal flaw. I’ve often felt that Conradian feeling in the Caroni swamp but not at Grande Rivière. But then I’ve only been there once.

It might be an ordinary landscape except for:

  • the size (about 7 feet by 12 feet)
  • the strange colour
  • the corbeaux, common in the area, which give the picture a spooky atmosphere, clustered as they are around the pony.

Compared to Neo Rauch’s paintings, in which everything is grossly weird and bizarre, Peter Doig’s piece is just a little off, just a little strange and disconcerting. I can’t say if I like it or not, but I find it intensely fascinating.

More about the painting and Peter Doig at the National Gallery of Canada website

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

Grande Riviere is one of my favourite painting by Peter Doig. Like much of Peter's work, the mixture of the familiar--GR has a particular significance for me--and the peculiar gives the painting a certain quality, a certain "This is a place I know, but not quite the place I know" feeling. It's both compelling and disturbing.

Eileen said...

As Jonathan said, a really compelling image. I've been to Grande Riviere and this slightly disturbing image, with a vague sense of foreboding, really catches some of the feeling I had while there. I can't quite make sense of it all - need to reflect a bit more. I will look further into Peter Doig also. I have come across him before but not in a long time. Thanks so much for sharing this Mary.