A lion with a blue-plumed pirate hat, an obsidian nude with her face blacked out, a mysterious rider on horseback — the settings and characters in Peter Doig’s newest paintings, now on view at Michael Werner Gallery, are at once strange and somehow totally familiar, like scenes from myths or dreams. Some recall hypnagogic states, fragments of surreal imagery that flood the mind just before the onset of sleep. Others resemble portals to another dimension, like sections of the pristine Upper East Side gallery’s walls have been peeled back to reveal Narnia-like alternate realities.
When Doig returns to his best-known motif, the canoe, it’s as mysterious and evocative as ever, not a bit hackneyed. In “Spearfishing,” a man in a blindingly orange diving suit stands holding a spear in an emerald-green canoe, accompanied by a haunting seated figure in a golden cloak. The composition references a figurative take on Rothko’s abstract color fields; the canoe and its reflection are rendered in simple, super-saturated curved stripes, and the dark sky and water in swaths of cobalt and indigo. It could be a scene from a dark modern fairytale.