In the latest episode of The New Yorker’s terrific Out Loud podcast, the writer Nicholson Baker talks about how the internet can lead to “a present tense assault of simultaneity” and the effect this has on our attention spans. He goes on: “I think that a necessary precondition for the appreciation of art is the feeling that the thing you are looking at or reading or listening to is all that there is at that moment and you have to give yourself to it.”
The sentiment might not be especially groundbreaking, but it resonated with me hugely hearing it just days after seeing the Peter Doig show at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. No Foreign Lands (named after a Robert Louis Stevenson quotation “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign”) brings together work that the painter has created since moving to Trinidad around a decade ago. It’s an eclectic selection ranging from the very abstract to the very figurative, but what links them all is their ability to freeze you in time and place, demanding that you “give yourself to it” in Nicholson’s words.
It helps that these are big paintings, up to and including 100 inches wide, but nevertheless their ability to stop visitors in their tracks is astonishing.
Contrast the eerie verisimilitude of the hazy, shimmering gauze in Black Curtain (Towards Monkey Island) with the uber colourful Cricket Painting, the surreal single-player table tennis match in Ping Pong with the believable but no less intriguing figure under the pink umbrella in Lapeyrouse Wall. Combining his own and found imagery, Doig manages to create a world at once both exotic and reverberating with deja-vu.
Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands runs until November 3.