Nick Hackworth

Peter Doig: 100 Years Ago, Victoria Miro Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

One hundred years ago is an appropriate title for this exhibition, capturing as it does the sense of timelessness that pervades Peter Doig’s best work.

For more than two decades he has been painting, in his various but distinctive figurative styles, landscapes and figures mixing reality, memory and imagination with a freedom that has led to him being described as a “radical traditionalist”. He has painted houses and forests, canoes on lakes and, inspired by his Canadian upbringing, mountains dotted with skiers and snowboarders. Yet his chosen subject matter, some aspects of which might appear dangerously twee in the eyes of a neurotically fashionable art-scene, has not prevented commercial or critical success — Doig is a former winner of the John Moores Painting Prize and a former nominee for the Turner Prize.

He is now showing in London for the first time since 1998, at the Victoria Miro Gallery, the gallery that gave Doig, Chris Ofili and the Chapman Brothers their first major solo shows and that in 2000 migrated from Cork Street to the post-industrial wastelands west of Hoxton. The exhibition brings few shocks — familiar subjects and familiar styles are here — but it does bring some of the most beautiful pieces that Doig has painted.

Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre, hanging on the back wall of the ground-floor gallery is the first work you see when entering this show — and it is the best. An oil work, as they all are, it is like a landscape from a dream but is inspired by an old photo of a dam in Germany. At the centre of the piece, in the foreground, two figures in psychedelic fancy dress stand at the mouth of a walkway that tops the dam and, with it, curves around and away to the right, drawing you into the picture. Above the dam stretches a beautiful star-studded sky conjured by a succession of blue and green washes highlighted with touches of yellow, and below the sky, a turquoise lake fading into darkness towards the shore. It is captivating and melancholy, the scene seeming far away and beyond reach. A similar lightness of touch is evident in Driftwood, where two figures float in a painting of a Trinidadian beach, and in a very pink painting of two children obscured by a flurry of snow.

Not all the work is this effective. Doig likes to experiment and a number of pieces here, notably Haus der Bilder, are painted boldly and flatly and look crude by comparison. But sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Until 22 May, at Victoria Miro Gallery, 16 Wharf Road, N1 (020 7336 8109)