Edinburgh Art Festival Review: Peter Doig - No Foreign Lands

Artist Peter Doig visiting his Edinburgh exhibition.
Artist Peter Doig visiting his Edinburgh exhibition.

The Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival are both over for another year, but the Edinburgh Art Festival runs until the end of September.

While not having the draw of its two bigger brothers, the Art Festival has been bolstered this year by an extraordinary exhibition by Scots-born artist Peter Doig entitled ‘No Foreign Lands’.

The title is taken from a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, namely: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” It’s a line both relevant to the peripatetic Doig and the subjects of his huge and colourful paintings.

The artist, who currently lives in Trinidad, broke the record for the highest auction price for a work by a living European artist when his painting ‘White Canoe’ sold for $11.3million in 2011. Subsequent works have also raised well over $10million.

His paintings of canoes have become something of a trademark - along with his taste for large canvasses - and there are a few examples in the Edinburgh exhibition, lovingly hung in a series of rooms at the recently-renovated Scottish National Gallery.

It’s easy to see why his works have provoked such a feeding frenzy from collectors, somehow achieving the trick of combining a confidence which occasionally borders on brash, while on closer inspection revealing subtleties and nuances which intrigue and delight.

A case in point is the picture postcard setting of ‘Toward Monkey Island’ which sees a tropical paradise slightly obscured by a grey veil of paint - making the landscape seem distant and yet more real.

The wide-ranging collection is arranged by genre rather than by year, a necessity for an artist who will occasionally return to a subject. A drunk leaning against a lamppost is repainted several years after the original, now holding a bottle.

Other ghostly characters are cinematically zoomed in on from one work to another, a brown speck in the background becoming the main subject of a later painting.

Meanwhile, many of the artist’s initial sketches and drafts are included - showing just how a simple subject like ‘Girl In A Tree’ can be shifted tonally from romantic to threatening with the differing use of colour and style.

It’s a magical exhibition with surprises around every corner - not just a highlight of the Art Festival, but a highlight of 2013.