‘Peter Doig and the eighties: There is something in this discussion that needs careful attention. Perhaps it is a hinge to what we are digging for now.

You wrote, quoting Doig:

‘The paintings in this exhibition were made in the 80s. It was such a different time in my life; I was in my early to mid-20s then, whereas the island works were made from the age of 40 onwards. When I was making the early paintings, I was absorbing all that I saw and experienced, and regurgitating it into my paintings, with almost no filter. I had little regard for materials, in the sense that I urgently needed to make things with whatever was at hand. I did not have an interest in making a “good” painting, but more a need to get the imagery down.

You also wrote:  Another revelation about this work are the drawings and works on paper. They are the real thing. They are so revealing of his mindset that one wonders why he decided to part with them.

The 80’s were great and at the same time murderous. In a way they opened possibilities for what you might be referring to as the real thing: an immediacy, a freshness and absoluteness, a creative optimism without claim or criteria as such, but they were doomed because this was happening too: ( I am quoting you from your article on Chinese ink painting)

However, that was the time when skill and modesty (which are the two qualities required for good quality bimo and ink art) were thrown out of the window and never came back. That was the time when Wall Street and the financial world started creating a bubble out of very uneventful and mediocre Chinese art.

Not only in Chinese art. The bubbles were being inflated everywhere. In painting, the 80’s were the years of regurgitation. It was glorious and everyone felt they could paint, yet the lack of skill required, that enabled its immediacy, also led the way to vanity, self-obsession and finally boredom and redundancy.

Peter Doig was smart. Any serious artist had to question that seductive indulgence and move on. Reading his quote makes it clear:

Later on, I became more interested in painting and paint––the materiality of it, its possibilities, etcetera. And because of this, I slowed down a bit. I started to look at other peoples’ paintings as a source of inspiration, rather than only looking and taking from the world outside of “Painting.” I came to realize that sometimes, it takes more confidence to make a quiet painting than a loud one’.

How profound is that.

So to your reflection:

That slowing down is evident and shows him as a career guy who got tamed by Uni, the institution and the art market. It is as if his rebellion only happen when he painted for himself and not for the market. I must confess that in its carelessness, this exhibition shows how careful and calculated his later work has been.  Another revelation about this work are the drawings and works on paper. They are the real thing. They are so revealing of his mindset that one wonders why he decided to part with them.

I would say his move was not so much about being tamed by the market, but because he was trying to stay alive as an artist. In a time where anything and everything was thrown out, sucked up and flogged off, he turned away to a deeper concentration on painting itself. The creation of an island and the melancholy that goes with isolation.

You mentioned you had me in mind when writing this: you are astute. It penetrated reading that article on Doig and I had to think a lot about it. Frankly it touched my gut. I think we also have to acknowledge Peter Doig for leaving the 80’s beach party and heading out into more stern waters. An artist who asked any serious questions in the 80’s had, at some point, to leave that fast and frenzied era in which it was enough to swing a brush and simply dish it up from the gut onto the canvas. (I was doing great in the 80’s and it cost me a painful divorce from my gallerist who was rocking me forward on the success wagon, knowing that type of success and whipper snapper hype, in the long run will run dry and burn you up before your time: I chose painting and an island.

The oscillation between sadness and optimism: I don’t know if this is a criteria of talent: I think it is deeply human. Yep. Anyone who wanted to not get consumed by the 80’s had to withdraw. To oversee the significance of this would be to undermine the process that brings us where we are today.

So where are we? Somewhere highly interesting (ahh the optimism). I like the discussion you have brought up on the 80’s. But it calls for differentiation. Perhaps it is that feeling of the real thing we are after, but not at the expense of losing perspective and humility, or throwing skill and modesty out the window. Can this be combined? I believe so. This is perhaps the present challenge. Conceptual art has removed us from what touches us, perhaps reawakening an attraction and response to work like Doig’s. The point is in contemplating the 80’s we need to reflect on an essential level and not on a nostalgic one. Perhaps we can look at the essence of what he essentially gave us in his paintings within a new context, also being aware of why we could not stay there and where this might be leading. That is the living argument for art history, right?

I found it to be a very constructive post Rodrigo. Thank you’