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. Figure in a Mountain Landscape was derived from a photograph from the 1920s of one of the Canadian group of artists known as the ‘Group of Seven’. The artist, Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945), appears as a strange, darkly hooded figure seen from behind, perched high above an expanse of mountain scenery. In the print Doig used two colours – yellow and black – imparting an eery, unsettling atmosphere at odds with the Romantic notion of outdoor painting. The print generated several paintings of the same title between 1997 and 1999, in which the image in the etching is reversed. The first of these is large and detailed (1997-8, private collection). The second is small and brightly coloured (1998, private collection). The detail is replaced by simple blocks of colour and rough, dark patterning. A third large painting, Figure in a Mountain Landscape II 1998-9 (Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin), is an expanded version of the image represented in all the previous works. It is a wide, landscape format painting in pastel shades.
The print Figure in a Mountain Landscape is portrait in format. It was made using three plates and the techniques of spitbite and sugarlift.
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.110 in colour.
Peter Doig: Blizzard seventy-seven, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kunsthalle
Nurnberg, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1998, p.119.
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999, pp.20-5.
November 2002/January 2008