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). 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.
Snowsports are favourite activities for Doig, who spent his adolescence in rural Quebec, and they have featured in his paintings since the mid 1990s. Ski Jacket 1994 (Tate T06962) is a large, two-part painting derived from an image of learner skiers on a Japanese mountain. Blizzard ’77 (Tate P11554-11561) is a portfolio of eight etchings depicting snow and skiers made shortly before the portfolio Grasshopper. Ski Hill and Ski Lift (P11546) depict skiers in a snowy landscape. In both images they are dark silhouettes in a world of white. Ski Hill is a view looking down a snow-covered mountainside towards a valley. Pole-like structures and small black blobs pepper the pale blue snow. Behind them dark forms in the snow indicate trees and rocks in the valley. Ski-lifts descend the mountain on the right side of the image. In Ski Lift the tops of trees fill the foreground, behind which ski-lifts are partially visible. In the upper centre of the print a few skiers appear to be moving horizontally across the landscape, followed by their shadows. Both images were derived from videos, made by Doig with the specific intention of using them as source material for paintings. He took still photographs from the videos as they played on television.
Ski Hill is landscape in format. It was made using one plate and the technique of 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.109 in colour.
Peter Doig: Blizzard seventy-seven, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kunsthalle
Nurnberg, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1998, pp.46-7.
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999.
November 2002/January 2008