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.
The reflective surfaces of water in ponds and lakes are common in Doig’s work and are the subject of several prints in the portfolio. In Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?) (P11544) reflection is the overt issue. Window Pane depicts a similar scene, seen from a little further off and without the human presence. A wide margin at the top of the page represents the snow-covered pond or lakeside. Small black splodges suggest holes in the snow. Just above this snowy area is a narrow margin in which the base of tree trunks extend upwards off the page. The trees’ dark reflections are visible in the centre of the print, in a rounded area of water surrounded by thick snow and ice on the pond’s surface. This is pale blue, dappled with watery brown splodges. As the title indicates, this area of open water represents a glassy surface, or window pane through which things may be seen. In the scenario of this image, the reflective water provides the opportunity to see what is not visible within the picture frame. The wintry trees are only visible in the enclosed, cropped format of the reflection, suggesting that reflection provides a means of seeing what might normally not be visible externally but pointing towards an inward-looking vision. The psychological and spiritual dimensions to the notion of reflection are evoked in the title Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like?).
Window Pane is portrait in format. It was made using one etching plate and the techniques of spitbite, sugarlift and hardground.
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.103 in colour.
Peter Doig: Blizzard seventy-seven, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kunsthalle
Nurnberg, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1998.
Peter Doig: Version, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus, Glarus 1999.
November 2002/January 2008
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