Peter Doig (b. 1959), Red Boat (Imaginary Boys), 2004, oil on canvas, 200 x 186 cm.
People often say that photographic images or postcards, when viewed repeatedly, can become confused with genuine memories. For me, Peter Doig’s Red Boat is an image involved in a similar process, as the painting has become intertwined and ultimately indistinguishable from a recollection, or supposed memory, that I have of encountering a similar scene on a past holiday. When I attempt to think back to this moment and recall the image, I cannot be sure what belongs to my own memory and what has been constructed and moulded by my viewing of Doig’s imaginary boys.
With Doig frequently creating his pieces from photographs and postcards, as opposed to working from tangible landscapes, many of his paintings have a photographic quality, perhaps making my confusion more understandable. Red Boat seems to allow for personal investment from each viewer, providing a space for individual memories within the multiple layers of landscape which lie behind the initial image of the boys in the boat. With the tangled, fluid forest in the background and the dark, potentially sinister reflection of the boat in the river’s surface, the picture provides alternative, unexplored spaces which encourage a more personal, and potentially more unsettling, viewer response. With an anonymous bidder paying over six million pounds for the piece at auction in 2011, I can only assume that the painting holds memories for others too. LW