Peter Doig (London, UK)

Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Peter Doig (London, UK) born 1959
Part of
Etching on paper
Support: 557 × 455 mm
Presented by the artist and Charles Booth-Clibborn 1998


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.

Like almost all Doig’s prints, the images in Grasshopper are derived from previously made paintings whose title they have acquired. Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?) is based on a painting made in 1996 (Mima and Cesar Reyes, Old San Juan) showing a semi-abstracted reflection in water. Both works were based on a close-up of a photograph Doig took of someone standing on the edge of a pond. At the top of the image, the edge of the pond and the feet and ankles of a man are visible. Below these, the water and reflections of tree trunks extend down to the bottom of the page. In the print, the tree trunks’ reflections are olive green and merge with the man’s reflection in a dark central area. The water has tints of violet and yellow. In the richly coloured painting, the water is framed at the bottom edge of the page by a narrow band of white ice or snow. Lumps of ice float in the water and the man’s reflection is visible separate from that of the trees. In the print there is no ice at the bottom of the page and the lumps of ice floating in the water have dark outlines. Because of the watery application of violet colour on the print, they have lost the sense of opacity that they have in the painting. The snow on the shore behind the man’s ankles has yellow tints. The print is portrait in format. It was made using two etching plates and the techniques of softground, sugarlift and hardground.

The reflective surfaces of water in ponds and lakes are common themes in Doig’s work, and are the subject of several prints in the portfolio Grasshopper, including Window Pane (P11549) –another view of the surface of a pond – and Canoe Lake (P11545), Camp Forestia (P11547) and Lunker (P11550) which show reflections in a lake. As the title of this print emphasises, the artist intends to evoke the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the notion of reflection.

Further reading:
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.101 in colour.
Peter Doig: Blizzard seventy-seven, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kunsthalle
Nurnberg, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1998, p.109.
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999.

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2002/January 2008

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Display caption

Born in Edinburgh and raised in Canada, Peter Doig returned to live and work in the UK in 1979. He is known for his large landscape paintings, shown at the Tate in 1994 when he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Doig often bases his work on found images, such as photographs, which he abstracts and personalises to stretch the idea of representation to the limit.

Works such as these etchings hover between being abstract marks and recognisable images. The restricted colour, inspired by the snowy landscapes of Canada, adds to the abstract character of the image.

Gallery label, August 2004

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