PETER DOIG at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to June 18, Wednesday to Friday noon to 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 5:30 pm. Free. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Peter Doig's images make deep impressions even as they lack detail a man in the distance strolls down the beach, a dead pelican dangling from his hand. Peter Doig 's Pelican (2001), in blotchy green, grey and black watercolour on paper, uncannily captures its subject. His depiction conveys more of a feeling than a photorealist likeness, but it's vividly real nonetheless.
Doig's works, mainly oil and watercolour on paper, are striking. While he often paints from photos, he conveys things a photo never could. Many of his paintings, like Pelican, show the lush, green Trinidad where he lives.
In Untitled (2002), he roughly piles thick oil on paper to portray two 19th-century men. One sports Napoleonic military garb; his legless friend floats in a bright orange-yellow fur-trimmed coat. The two seem full of life despite the absence of important details like facial expressions.
Though a few of the pieces are overworked and far too busy, the stronger pieces have a sparse look. Untitled (Driftwood) is an exercise in simplicity. Painted in runny, salmon-coloured oil paint, two barely discernable human figures lie on a beach indicated by nothing more than a scraggly charcoal line. This is the genius of knowing when to stop.
In 100 Years Ago (2001), whose composition and colour are gorgeous, a bearded man in a long canoe drifts through orange water under a hospital-green sky as the land slips past behind. It's a physical embodiment of peace and solitude.
There's something about the fact that these works are on paper. While a canvas imparts a certain authoritative permanence, paper implies that the true importance of the work lies in the meditative act of its making. Beyond that, the material is ephemeral and bound to decay.
That impermanence speaks directly to the photographs from which Doig paints, and even more so to the memory of their taking.