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Renowned artist Peter Doig excited about getting Montreal Canadiens jersey

MONTREAL - He's received international acclaim and sold some of his paintings for as much as $12 million but it was a piece of uniquely Canadian culture that put a smile on Peter Doig's face on Tuesday.

"I'm absolutely flabbergasted," the Scottish-born painter said after former Montreal Canadiens players Guy Lafleur and Rejean Houle presented him with a Habs jersey bearing the name of Hall of Fame member Yvan Cournoyer.

The hockey-loving Doig, who came to Montreal as a six-year-old in 1966 and followed Les Glorieux as a youngster, described getting Cournoyer's jersey as "a great honour."

Lafleur and Houle made the presentation at a news conference at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts called to discuss a stunning new exhibit of Doig's paintings.

"I read that Yvan Cournoyer was your favourite player and that during the time that we won the (Stanley) Cup in the '70s you were around," Houle told Doig as he gave him the jersey. "We're very happy to give Yvan Cournoyer's sweater to Peter."

While Doig might have scored with the Canadiens, his paintings left no question who the star was on Tuesday.

As Montrealers braced from a bitter cold snap outside, the lush paintings inside the museum invoked the warmth of Doig's days in Trinidad as artist-in-residence.

"Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands," a collection of his work done during the last decade, opens Saturday, which is appropriately the birthday of iconic Scottish poet Robbie Burns.

Doig, 54, has had a nomadic existence he says informs his work.

He first went to Trinidad as a toddler from Scotland before his family settled in Quebec. In 1974, it was off to Toronto and then London before he returned to Montreal in 1986. Then it was back to London, among other stops. He moved to Trinidad in 2002.

His work is in many public and private collections and last year two of his paintings sold at auction in London for $10.5 million and $12 million, respectively.

The Montreal exhibit, which runs until May 4, is the only place in North America where "No Foreign Lands" will be shown. It recently ended a three-month run at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.

Spread over several rooms, there is lots to stop viewers in their tracks so they can drink in the images, such as 2002's "Music of the Future" and the atmospheric street scene "House of Pictures."

The 40 oils, painted on large canvas and linen, are presented alongside preparatory pieces that give an insight into the artist's process, as well as sketches and smaller works. Some of the paintings took years to create.

"I've always worked on large canvases, even when I was a student, because I wanted to make paintings like the great paintings I was seeing in museums or galleries," Doig said in an interview.

He agreed there's a certain liberation to working on large canvases such as those that dominate the show.

"I think it's also to do with being able to use the arm as well as the hand in making something, broader areas of colour which have a different effect, getting beyond the periphery of vision."

The title of the show comes from fellow Scot Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote in "The Silverado Squatters" that, "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign."

Doig chuckled that the title, proposed by the curator of the show in Scotland, may have been an attempt to address "the Scots diaspora," linking Doig's travels to those of Stevenson, who lived in France and Samoa.

Nathalie Bondil, chief curator of the Montreal museum, said landing the Doig show is a coup.

"It's a very important exhibit because this is one of the most important contemporary painters alive," she said.

Bondil, who called the Montreal show "a kind of sentimental journey back to (his) roots," said Doig was intimately involved in the installation of the exhibit and was keen to have it in museum rooms he had visited as a youngster with his father.

She described the artist as "a painter's painter."

"Each painting is the end result — the masterpiece — of a very long construction of the image."

Doig, whose paintings of Canada from earlier in his career have drawn significant interest, laughs when it's suggested he's going to have to do some hockey-themed works now that he has his Canadiens sweater.

"I've done a lot of paintings about Canada and I've actually made quite a number of hockey paintings in the past before I was well known," he said, adding sports art can be tricky.

Doig explained the work in his opinion needs to be more about the activity than the sportsman and not be overly nostalgic or romantic.

"It's always a tricky one but I want to try it," he said.

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