Andrew Lambirth

Is he worth it?

Andrew Lambirth on the new exhibition of Peter Doig's work

Peter Doig has aroused much passion in recent months for the prices his paintings have started to fetch in the world’s salerooms. For many, he is not only the acceptable face of contemporary British painting, but also a buoyant export and bright international star. Even those who dislike painting and prefer less demanding forms of art such as installation and photography are prepared to make an exception for Doig, perhaps because he is easy on the eye. Ten years ago he enjoyed a fairly prestigious show at the Whitechapel, now he’s been given the main galleries at the Tate’s Millbank branch. The Whitechapel show left me unconvinced of his virtues though I remember liking one or two of the smaller pictures. Now we have the chance to see what all the fuss is about. Is Doig the brand really worth the millions it can now summon?

Eight museum rooms of paintings (including some drawings) by a single artist can be enough to sink a reputation. Doig, who looks quite strong in mixed shows of contemporary work, begins to evaporate here. He makes work which reflects upon his peripatetic life: born in Edinburgh in 1959, he grew up in Trinidad and Canada, came to London to study at Wimbledon and Central St Martins, went back to Canada in 1986 to work as a scene painter in the film industry, and returned to England for postgraduate study in 1989. He won the John Moores Prize in 1993 and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994. In 2002, he moved back to Trinidad where he now lives and works, though he teaches in Düsseldorf. Like so many younger artists he is constantly on the move, as if chasing some elusive grail.

Photographs are the compositional starting point of his paintings.

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