Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine
WHERE does Peter Doig come from? Is it Edinburgh where he was born? Is it Canada where he moved in 1966 at the age of seven? Is it London where he studied at Wimbledon, St Martin's and Chelsea schools of art? Is it Trinidad where he has lived and worked since 2002? Or is it Germany where he is a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf?
To look at his paintings, it could be all of the above. Many of his large-scale canvases have the kind of Tahitian heat you see in Gauguin, their colours vibrant, their bold landscapes pushing towards the abstract. Others, though, are altogether cooler, their chill blue atmospheres and washed-out palates suggesting less temperate climes.
This, says curator Julie-Ann Delaney, is typical of an artist who draws inspiration not only from his own intercontinental travels but also from found photographs and from master painters such as Munch, Monet and Klimt.
"There are some that you would assume were Trinidad, because that's where he is based, but they're actually a found photograph from India," she says. "One work called House of Pictures is based on a photograph he took of a commercial gallery in Vienna and, within that, there's a figure, and the photograph of the figure was taken in Vancouver. Even when he's been working in Trinidad, he's been working off photography from Canada. The fact that it could be any place is what's really exciting about them."
She adds: "The times we live in now, people can move. It's not as if you belong to one place and that's it. Especially for artists: it's important that they migrate and pick up different cultures."
Doig's wanderlust means Delaney's ten-year overview is less a homecoming than a chance to catch up with a long-lost Edinburgh son. The exhibition title, No Foreign Lands, is a quote from that other well-travelled Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote in The Silverado Squatters: "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign." Doig's work has a strong sense of place, even though it is not necessarily the same place or even a totally real place.
"He takes inspiration from other artists, but for him, it's about taking elements of their work but making it his own," says Delaney. "He paints modern settings – for example, there's a series called The Heart of Old San Juan that depicts a basket-ball court – but he's using more historical methods."
What she's most looking forward to is seeing these hallucinatory paintings up close. Reproductions do scant justice either to their size (up to 3m by 3.5m) or their distinctive paint work. "You really need to see the surface and the way the paint is applied," she says. "He pushes himself and tries to use paint differently to keep himself interested in the work and to ensure things don't become stale. They are large-scale and the RSA rooms are really the only ones in Scotland that could cope with the scale of his work. You really need that physical presence."
Bringing together nearly 120 works, including several brand new pieces, she is structuring No Foreign Lands around a series of themes. She wants to illuminate Doig's preoccupations – among them ping pong, pelicans and canoes – and also to give an insight into his working methods, from small study right up to major oil painting. "There are specific forms in his work that migrate," she says. "There are certain things that you'll see in paintings reminiscent of Canada that will move into a Trinidad setting. We’re looking at about 20 different themes and then forms migrate from one theme to another. He's an incredible painter."
WHERE & WHEN
No Foreign Lands: Peter Doig
Scottish National Gallery, 3 August–3 November, 10am–5pm
From £6, Tel: 0131 624 6200
© Mark Fisher 2013
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