Grasshopper is Doig’s third print portfolio, following Ten Etchings 1996 (Tate P11471-P11480) and Blizzard ’77 1997 (Tate P11554-P11561). It was produced in an edition of thirty-five. Tate’s copy is one of seven additional proof sets. Each print is individually signed and numbered ‘TC’ (Tate copy) by the artist. The portfolio is presented in a pale yellow, hinged solander box bearing the artist’s name in dark brown. The title and colophon pages were designed by Peter B. Willberg and printed in dark green. The contents were printed at Hope Sufferance Press, London on 350gsm Zerkall paper and published by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint, The Paragon Press. Colour etching involves a layering process sympathetic to Doig’s painting process of building up colours and image in many stages. The prints in Grasshopper were created using between one and three plates and a range of etching techniques. Variety in texture and tone was created with aquatint (a process for creating an even tonal field), open bite (a method in which unprotected areas of the plate are exposed to acid to produce a very light tone), deep bite (a process which results in very dark tones), spit bite (a method involving painting or splashing acid onto the plate resulting in painterly effects) and sugarlift (a process which allows the artist to paint marks that print rather than having to outline them negatively). The individual prints were originally untitled, but were titled by the artist on publication of Contemporary British Art in Print: The Publications of Charles Booth-Clibborn and his Imprint The Paragon Press 1995-2000 in 2001.
The title Grasshopper is associated, for Doig, with lines found in a book on the history of ice hockey (a sport the artist enjoys from his adolescence spent in rural Canada). A farmer settling in the northern American prairies in the nineteenth century is quoted as having remarked: ‘Man is a grasshopper here, a mere insect making way between the enormous discs of heaven and earth’ (Contemporary British Art in Print, p.313). The portfolio shares its title with a painting created in 1990 (Saatchi Collection, London) depicting a vast landscape seen from the perspective of an insect. For early settlers on the northern American continent, the conquest of nature (or at least its partial taming) was of prime importance and the landscape has a power and significance largely lost in densely populated and more ancient Europe. It represents potential for both sublime beauty and the horror of death, decay and obliteration. The tension between these two has been a recurring theme in Doig’s paintings since the early 1990s. The prints in Grasshopper are dominated by black and as a result are far darker than Doig’s previous imagery. This heightens the sense of danger suggested in the human relationship with the landscape.
Doig bases his paintings on photographs from a variety of sources, including newspapers, magazines, books, postcards and video stills. He may draw or paint on the photographs, cut them up, collage them and photocopy them before they reach their final state as the basis for a painting or print. Daytime Astronomy was created from a photograph take by Hans Namuth (1917-90) of the artist Jackson Pollock (1912-56) reclining in long grass, reading a book. Doig subsequently used this image again for a large painting of the same title (1997-8, Warren and Victoria Miro). He chose the photograph for its atmosphere, rather than because of the identity of the reclining figure. In both painting and etching the figure is small and partially hidden behind the long grass. In the painted version, he is central, lying flat along a horizontal line separating the foreground from the background. The horizon runs parallel to this line, as does a narrow white line three quarters of the way up the image. The print represents a tilted crop of the painting. The reclining figure is in the bottom left corner of the page. The horizon slopes down towards the right side of the page and the telegraph pole in front of the house (which constitute part of the background scenery in the painting) are tilting at unnatural angles. Although the painting is bright, daytime colours, the print is mainly dark in tone. The sky is a similar shade of olive green as the landscape below it and this, coupled with the title, result in an ominous or uncanny atmosphere. Camp Forestia (P11547) is another print in the portfolio depicting a day scene that resembles night.
Daytime Astronomy is landscape in format. It was made using two etching plates and the techniques of hardground, aquatint and burnishing.
Patrick Elliott, Jeremy Lewison, Contemporary Art in Print: The Publications of Charles Booth-Clibborn and his Imprint The Paragon Press 1995-2000, London 2001, pp.100-111 and 313, reproduced p.106 in colour.
Peter Doig: Blizzard seventy-seven, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kunsthalle
Nurnberg, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1998, p.125.
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999, pp.11-13, reproduced p.12.
November 2002/January 2008