Yesterday, on Halloween, I made a painful cut to the manuscript for my next novel. I deleted the scenes that were heavily influenced by the paintings of Peter Doig.
I am in the middle of a big revision of my next novel, The Last Neanderthal.You may wonder what the connection is between an artist like Doig and Neanderthals. I’ll tell you that I have no idea, but looking at the paintings gave me an impulse that I needed to start my manuscript.
Doig’s work gave me a feeling that was so strong that I could hang onto it through that slippery first draft.
Somewhere in that process I found myself obsessively watching the penultimate sequence of the 1980s horror film, Friday the 13th. I’d read that Doig had seen it and, from my memory of the film, I couldn’t imagine what it evoked in him.
As I watched the end of the film, it did something else to me. It twisted beauty and horror together so tightly that I could taste it. As I watched that feeling, the one that I wanted in my novel, sunk in and solidified.
It is hard to articulate how a feeling can move from one medium to another. Many things shift in the exchange, as Doig explains when talking about using family snapshots, books, newspapers, magazines, prints, postcards and film stills as a starting point:
People often say that my paintings remind them of particular scenes from films or certain passages from books, but I think it’s a different thing altogether…There is no textual support to what you are seeing. Often I am trying to create a ‘numbness’. I am trying to create something that is questionable, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to put into words …(more here)
The novel that I am working on takes place in the time of the Neanderthals. The popular image of them is grunting, knuckle dragging, and basic, but I am using new research that shows evidence of a more sophisticated Neanderthal culture than we previously imagined.
That said, I imagine the Neanderthals spoke less and observed more than we do. They lived very much in the present and reacted rather than articulated.
Doig said something else about his work that resonated with me:
There is something more primal about painting. In terms of my own paintings, there is something quite basic about them, which inevitably is to do with their materiality. They are totally non-linguistic.
I wonder if the paintings helped me develop a different kind of language, one that went further beyond what I could previously articulate? I don’t know yet, but one thing I do know is that Halloween is over and I already miss it. I didn’t get enough good scares.
If you feel the same, you need to watch the canoe sequence of Friday the 13th.