Echo Lake is a large, dark painting of a scene at night. Like many of Doig’s paintings of the late 1990s, it is landscape in format, with a composition based on horizontal bands of colour overlaid with detail. The painting is bisected by a line of white representing the shore of a lake. Above it is a band of earth and scrubby vegetation painted in white and pastel colours. This area is illuminated by the headlamps of an American-style police car located at the centre-right of the image. The bright lights on the car’s roof are roughly level with the top of the vegetation. Above this point, filling the top third of the painting, is an area of purplish black. A few twinkling lights suggest distant habitations. On the right side of the painting, the trunks of trees growing above the shoreline are partially illuminated. Their branches extend up into the darkness. They are compositionally balanced by a telegraph pole on the left side of the painting at the level of the road on which the police car is parked. A man wearing black trousers, a white shirt and a narrow black tie (presumably a policeman) stands at the lakeshore looking out of the painting towards the viewer. His hands encircle his face and his mouth is an o-shape indicating that he is shouting out into the dark lake. The title suggests that nothing comes back to him but his own voice. The bottom half of the painting represents a blurry mirror image of the landscape above the shoreline. This mirrored reflection provides the visual version of an echo.
Images reflected in water are common in Doig’s paintings. Doig has commented that ‘reflections function as entrances to other worlds’ (quoted in Bonaventura, p.15). His painting Ski Jacket 1994 (Tate T06962) consists of two abutting canvases bearing scenes which mirror each other as a compositional device. Doig makes his paintings from photographs derived from a variety of sources including family snapshots, books, newspapers, magazines, prints, postcards and film stills. The photographs are usually put through such processes as sketching or painting over, collage and repeated photocopying, before they reach the state from which the painting is derived. Doig frequently creates several versions of an image as both large and small paintings as well as more intimate works on paper using various media. Echo Lake is based on a still photograph Doig took from the cult horror film Friday the 13th (1980, director Sean S. Cunningham). He has made several paintings based on this image, including Canoe Lake 1997-8 (The Bailey Collection, Toronto), Untitled (Canoe Lake) 2000 (private collection) and Study for Echo Lake (Screaming Cop) 1999 (private collection, Florida). Related works on paper are Echo Lake (Reflection) 1999 (watercolour, sugar and ink on paper, private collection), Study for Echo Lake 1998 (colour photocopy on paper, private collection), Canoe Lake 1999 (oil and charcoal on paper, private collection) and Canoe Lake 1999 (watercolour on paper, private collection New York). The etching subtitled Canoe Lake (Tate P11545) in the portfolio Grasshopper 1997 also belongs to this series.
Doig typically applies oil paint in a variety of consistencies, ranging from thin washes which seep into one another to areas of thick impasto. His paintings are about the sensuous materiality of paint as much as the figurative subjects which they portray. He has commented:
People often say that my paintings remind them of particular scenes from films or certain passages from books, but I think it’s a different thing altogether. There is something more primal about painting. In terms of my own paintings, there is something quite basic about them, which inevitably is to do with their materiality. They are totally non-linguistic. There is no textual support to what you are seeing. Often I am trying to create a ‘numbness’. I am trying to create something that is questionable, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to put into words ... I often use heightened colours to create a sense of the experience, or mood or feeling of being there ... I think the paintings always refer back to a reality that we all have experience of ... I am using ... natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting.
(Quoted in Scott, pp.15 and 17.)
Doig has cited an early influence as the famous ‘zip’ paintings of American artist Barnett Newman (1905-70) in which a vertical band of light colour bisects the painting’s usually monochromatic ground. In Echo Lake the narrow strip of white paint representing the shoreline provides a horizontal version of Newman’s format. The figure of the policeman calling towards the viewer opens the picture plane out into a vast imaginary space beyond the painting. His shout recalls The Scream 1893 (National Gallery, Oslo) one of the best known paintings by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). With its sinister atmosphere and dark emotional register, Echo Lake stages generic fear, distress and unease in a contemporary setting.
Kitty Scott, Peter Doig, exhibition catalogue, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Power Plant, Toronto 2001, pp.8-10, 13-14, reproduced (colour) p.29
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999, reproduced (colour) p.9
Paul Bonaventura, ‘Peter Doig: A Hunter in the Snow’, Artefactum, autumn 1994, XI, 53, pp.12-15