Peter Doig, Britain’s greatest living contemporary artist returns to Edinburgh, Scotland, the city of his birth for his first major exhibition, No Foreign Lands at the Scottish National Gallery (3 August – 3 November 2013). The exhibition is lauded as a ‘mesmerising’ and ‘thrilling’ survey of a decade of paintings created during his Caribbean years. Peter Doig’s output dwells within the impressionist genre, often working, reworking and conjoining morsels of memory into large landscape canvasses from his warehouse studio in an industrial quadrant in Port of Spain, capital city of Trinidad & Tobago. His paintings allegorically captures folks in their natural environment, whether referenced from photographs, album covers, postcards, movies or scenic observations. Peter Doig once described his work as painting ‘by proxy and not intended to reflect setting.’
Doig, a long-time resident of Trinidad & Tobago has crisscrossed countries and landscapes from boy to man. Leaving Scotland for Trinidad at a tender age and subsequently migrating to Canada, England, mainland Europe and in 2002 he poignantly and consciously return to Trinidad with wife and family (their prime residence for over decade). This migratory transition says much about the character of the man, his temperament, perhaps the circles in which he revolves, but most importantly his association and relationship with the environment and landscape he inhabits as an artist.
The show’s title, “No Foreign Lands,” taken from Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote that “There is no foreign land. It is only the traveler that is foreign” could have have been more aptly chosen. For all of Peter Doig’s global recognition and the immeasurable influence that Trinidad and the Caribbean has on elevating Doig – and quite rightly – to being tagged with living-greatness, there persists an overt, occasionally subtle, but long standing prejudice and ignorance of Trinidad and the Caribbean as nothing more than some thing ‘exotic’, ‘tropical’ and ‘foreign’. This is at once insulting, grating and peppered prejudice. It is as if the Caribbean is void of creativity, talent, authenticity. The metamorphosis and development of Peter Doig, the painter, often aligned as Gauguin-esque and worst still inferring a Robinson Crusoe-like ‘exile’ in Trinidad (as if Caribbean is some creatively remote landscape) since 2000, and that this body of work has significantly contributed to his elevation to global acclaim, remains a surprise is to the art world and art critics alike.
In a recent interview with Vogue, Doig is cited as saying of his return to Trinidad that ‘I’m more directly influenced by my surroundings because they’re so potent. My work is very much about questioning—where I am, what I can depict, what’s legitimate. A lot of it is about the idea of reduction. How can you suggest a lot with very little—without becoming a minimalist?’ (Peter Doig: Dreaming in Color, Vogue, Dodie Kazanjian, 2013 July)
That Peter Doig’s work deal with everyday Caribbean life with a non-clichéd sensibility sanctions his art and abundant talent to draw comparisons to historical artists, including Munch, Claude Monet, Friedrich, and Klimt. But, so powerful has been his Trinidad experience, Doig himself had not anticipated the longevity of his residency in the Caribbean. Great art and great artist are not dependent on the vibrancy of London or New York art scene. The art world, critics and artists need to truly begin to take a studio look at the Caribbean for immense talent and body of work emerging from the region.
In the contemporary art space in the Caribbean, the non-profit print, online publication and social platform, ARC Magazine, showcases artwork that encapsulates the pan-Caribbean and brings together the visual discourses occurring on a daily basis in the region. For the uninitiated, ARC is a great place to begin to comprehend the strength of the contemporary art movement and explore the depth of talent and creativity that represent Caribbean’s energy, ambitions and voices.
Peter Doig is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London