Arena Homme +: Interview with Peter Doig
Arena Homme +
Ella McCartney
May 2014

Ella McCartney: Explain the title for the Lüpertz show you curated. What does Players Ball refer to?

Peter Doig: Players Ball is the name of an annual Pimp’s ball, that is re-enacted in the 1970s film The Mack. Hip hop artists have quoted this film quite a bit. ‘Players Ball’ also made me think of the performance of someone like Markus, the way he has always been aware of his appearance; that is the performative side of his personality. He is very aware of being at artist, and what it means to him to be an artist is very much related to the way he presents himself. Also in terms of football, Player’s Ball – it’s all about your move really, your opportunity to make a move. I thought it was a good title, just the sound of it anyway.

EM: Could you speak more about Markus’ awareness of being an artist?

PD: Well I think for Markus that life and art are completely linked in many ways, it’s kind of like performance really. I think he is very aware of being an artist and what it means. If you think about when he grew up in society, he grew up in postwar Germany. When he was a young man, when he studied, he probably felt like a bit of an outsider. He described how in the 1950s he grew his hair down to his shoulders. He had long black hair down to his shoulders and fold earrings. He did this because he wanted to look like Durer. This was long before the Beatles existed or even had long hair. It was quite a radical look. I think it got him into a lot of trouble but also he said that for him making art and writing poetry and reciting poetry was a way of attracting girls. He wasn’t a member of any sort of country club or part of society. As he has got older he has invented this persona for himself, or a persona of himself as evolved really. Very much connected to the way he dresses and the way he presents himself. He’s a dandy really.

EM: When did you first encounter Markus’ work?

PD: I first came across his work in 1981 in an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London called New Spirit of Painting. It introduced me a lot people here in London to German artists of his generation: Baselitz, himself, Kiefer. It also introduced the likes of Schnabel. It was quite an extraordinary list, you can hardly imagine an exhibition like that happening today. I was a first year student at St Martin’s. It had a lot of impact but I think it was also equally confusing because it presented so many positions as a painter. It also presented Hockney, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Bruce McLean, Sigmar Polke, Philip Guston. It was very refreshing on the one hand but it also said you can do whatever you want, which I think was a good think.

EM: In Players Ball on of the things I found interesting is how you have brought together works made in very different contexts and times.

PD: Markus hasn’t really shown in London since 1981, aside from one group exhibition. It was an opportunity to introduce and re-introduce Markus’ work to London, so it was important to have a historic aspect to it. But also I had access to such great work. From my point of view, to be able to see these things and the challenge of trying to put work from the 1960s together with work through the 1990s in the same room was a real challenge.

EM: For me it was really interesting to see works spanning different periods of time put into the same space, in contrast to seeing the new works on the ground floor which were all made in 2013.

PD: Markus is a hard working artist, a really hard working artist. He definitely wanted brand new work in the show. We said brand new work and he brought brand new paintings and a sculpture and we made a sort of coherence out of the new work he brought. He brought a lot more than what was displayed.

EM: You have chosen to include Untiled Congo – Correction of Constructivism  (1981) and Helmet I (1970). They both confront tricky histories. Was it an important decision to include both of these works?

PD: Yeah, for different reasons really. The Congo series was for an exhibition in Belgium initiated by A.R. Penck. It was a mention of the uncomfortable past of the Belgians and also a stylistic attack as well. It was an anti-constructivist movement set up by Penck. He encouraged artists in the gallery to make paintings for one year, all these Congo paintings he calls them, anti-constructivist paintings, but Markus was the only one who followed it through. He made really good paintings.

Helmet I is one of his more famous images of the German helmet. I think he painted the helmet in a very inflated sort of way, very melancholic. Such a hollow, shallow phase. He said he got the image from an American film about the war, and the Germans were represented by these helmets.

EM: You have previously curated other artist’s work for shows, as well as taken part in artist curated exhibitions. Is there a benefit of having an artist curate an exhibition?

PD: I think there can be. It was rare opportunity for me and an honour to have access to the work of an artist as great as Markus. You learn more about the way someone works, which can only be beneficial.

EM: Did working closely with Markus’ oeuvre make an impact on your own approach to making?

PD: I found some of the ways he thinks about and makes paintings very liberating. He gives himself a lot of opportunities, he creates opportunities for himself in the making of his work by repeating things, something that I don’t really do but I found inspiring. His work really evolves out of the studio and the studio is a real place of work. It’s interesting to see the pictures of him working in relation to the finished work. The studio comes out of an old fashioned place of work. I think a lot of artists’ studios are like design studios now, whether they’re painting or not – there’s a cautiousness and a carefulness. If you think about some of the painting shows that are on in London at the moment, everything looks like it’s been made at a desk. There’s not much of the body in the making of the painting. It’s all very controlled. Markus’ work seems to evolve not so much out of chaos but out of the work – out of grappling with the work, which I find refreshing in this day and age.

EM: It this similar to your own way of working?

PD: Not really, I think my work is really in between the two somehow. I think Markus’ work is maybe more hit and miss, but that is also what makes it so exciting. In the making there is so much risk taking.

The whole idea about finish or what finish is, is much, much more open than in a lot of British painting, which in a way is all about finish, ultimately. When you walk around Tate Britain, you look back over the last hundred years at British art making and it’s all about the surface, no matter how fine and finessed that surface is. It’s all very much about the surface.