Those who managed to get up in time for this morning’s breakfast opening of Peter Doig’s new paintings at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa’s Palazzetto Tito were treated to an unexpectedly in-depth interview of the artist by Tate director Nicholas Serota, which went way beyond the sparse smattering of introductory words that generally accompany such occasions. Doig normally prefers to let his paintings do the talking, but under the Tate director’s friendly but persistent probing the assembled crowd (which included the major Doig fan, Victor Pinchuk) were treated to a privileged insight into much of the imagery and thinking behind the hitherto unseen works lining the surrounding walls.
The gathering learned that although the characterful lions that prowl, cavort and generally populate many of these recent paintings might chime with their current Venetian context, they are all renditions of the Lion of Judah, which are as ubiquitous throughout the artist’s adopted country of Trinidad as the lion of St Mark is in Venice. Meanwhile, the sulphur yellow walls that are also a reccurring element are based on the notorious prison in the Trinidadian capital Port of Spain. (This bilious hue providing a stark contrast to Sarah Lucas’s good-time golden custard walls in theBritish Pavilion.)
But in the case of the decidedly malevolent horse and rider who looms out of a large dark canvas made last year, Doig revealed his sources to be more multifarious and personal. His sinister subject is drawn variously from local Caribbean folklore and carnival characters, Francesco Goya’s equestrian portrait of the Duke of Wellington in Apsley House—and the artist’s own features. “I wanted to paint a bad man,” Doig said, before quickly adding: “or someone playing a bad man!” Another piece of unexpected information was that Doig is currently working with Derek Walcott (“a brilliant visual writer”) on a book in which the artist and poet are responding to each others' work. All in all, a rich reward for the Biennale early birds.