One of the leading figurative painters working today, Peter Doig was born in 1959 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father’s occupation as a shipping merchant necessitated the Doig family travel frequently and Doig consequently experienced a transitory childhood, never staying in the same house for longer than three months at a time—an itinerant, transient upbringing that would shape the approach to his art. Shortly after he was born in Scotland, he and his family moved to Trinidad in 1960 before relocating to Canada in 1966; they moved frequently in Canada and continued to visit Scotland in the summers. As Doig noted of his childhood, “We never lived in a house for more than three months. My thinking is always between places. Something I would like to achieve in my paintings is a place in between places.”
After dropping out of school at the age of 17, Doig began drawing and decided to pursue a career in painting, traveling to London to study at the Wimbledon School of Art from 1979 to 1980 and the Saint Martin’s School of Art from 1980 to 1983. He briefly moved back to Canada before returning to London again to receive his master’s degree from the Chelsea School of Art in 1990. His master’s program prioritized the practice of painterly abstraction, focusing on materiality of the painting medium, which was a starkly different approach than that of many of his contemporaries who were associated with the Young British Artists that studied at Goldsmiths College of Art. While the YBA artists often had a more conceptual and open approach to materials and process, Doig was shaped into an artist as a master of his craft, with great attention to technicality.
In the early 1990s, Doig began his autobiographical approach to landscape, representing experienced places from his itinerant upbringing, which he melds with references to art history and a sense of fantasy and magical realism. Recalling the long Canadian winters of his childhood, he began a series of snowy landscapes and canoe scenes, injecting these richly detailed, evocative landscapes with a sense of mystery and intrigue. In 1994, Doig explained, “I often paint scenes with snow because snow somehow has this effect of drawing you inwards.”
In his adulthood, Doig has continued the peripatetic lifestyle that characterized his adolescence–-revisiting places where he grew up, a framework that provides a rich understanding of Doig’s paintings. After establishing his career as a painter in London, Doig returned to Trinidad in 2002 to partake in an artist residency with his friend, the artist Chris Ofili. His time in Trinidad marked the transition of his artwork becoming richer in color, reflecting the lush, vibrant Trinidadian landscape that surrounded him. While in Trinidad, Doig frequently visited Lapeyrouse Cemetery, an eighteenth-century burial ground in Port of Spain named for the founder of Trinidad’s first sugar estate. Doig frequently represents the cemetery in his Trinidad works, addressing the specter of colonialism and the legacy of Caribbean heritage through this imagery. Architectural motifs frequently serve as personal sites of memory for Doig in his work, while also serving as broader motifs of a culture and place.
Doig has a distinct ability to tap into the subliminal beauty of nature while evoking a sense of displacement and nostalgia, weaving his personal experiences into his representations of landscapes. He draws from a variety of sources, including his own memory, photographs, advertisements, film stills, and architecture, all of which he combines to create a unique sense of place which is both universal and unfamiliar. As Doig has explained, “There exists a tension…between the often generic representation of a pastoral scene and the investment in my own experiences of the landscape. All of the paintings have an element of autobiography in them, but I resist making the autobiographical readings overly specific.”