Edinburgh. Given that he is a native Scot (born 1959), it is surprising that Peter Doig’s exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery this summer—a highlight of the Edinburgh Art Festival—is his first major show there. Doig lived in the city for his first two years, but grew up in Trinidad and then Canada before studying in London where, in the 1990s, he became one of the leading painters of his generation.
He returned to Trinidad in 2002 and his renewed acquaintance with the Tropics dominates the paintings in the Edinburgh exhibition. “It’s brought a closer or more direct contact with my subject,” he says of the island. “Whereas before I was working more directly from memory or from external sources like photographs, when I went to Trinidad I was making much quicker use of things that I was seeing and I was inspired by.”
A surge in bright colour, as seen in Cricket Painting (Paragrand), 2006-12, is one result. “Colour is allowed to be much more vivid in light like that,” he says. When he travels back to Europe in the winter months, he says “it’s almost as if you develop cataracts on the flight over because everything is completely muted, the light is so different. And then when you go the other way, it’s almost as if your eyes have been peeled and everything is so much more vivid. But he emphasises an often ignored aspect of the Caribbean: 12 hours of the day are dark. “Some elements of my paintings definitely come from that as well,” he says. “It’s something I see very much in Gauguin: take away the subject, take away everything and there’s this awareness of the darkness, of being close to the Equator.”
Gauguin is one of many painters referred to in Doig’s recent work, another is Matisse, who Doig sees as “a brave painter” but also “a dangerous influence, because he did things with seemingly such ease and such style”. At the beginning of his career, Doig says he was “in denial of being in any way linked to other artists. Not that I felt that I was on my own, but I just wasn’t that interested ... But as I got older, I got interested in classic work, and could appreciate it more. That’s one of the best things about being a painter; you feel that there's a connection, no matter how spurious it is.”
The exhibition reveals Doig’s radical reworking of certain motifs. “I don’t think of myself, God forbid, as being a ‘series painter’,” he says, “but there are certain things—for instance the painting I made of the figure with the big stack of loudspeakers, those monolithic forms [Maracas, 2002-08]—that could be seen as a geometric element in my paintings, with walls and boxes, things that in a way aren't really walls or speakers or whatever, but are just shapes. I have made one large-scale painting and I started another a year or so ago, and I'm trying to finish it for Edinburgh. It’s going to be very different from the one that exists.”
Doig’s exhibition is one of 50 shows across 30 sites in the Edinburgh Art Festival, among them a tribute to Franz West at Inverleith House (13 July-22 September) and a new series of rooms by Gregor Schneider at Summerhall (2-31 August). Ten more new commissions appear in public locations throughout the city, including Peter Liversidge’s work in which the city's flagpoles will bear flags saying, simply, “Hello”.