Topsy Turvy

Standing at the top of the stairs, I tentatively, by minuscule measurements, reach one foot towards the edge, feeling for the place where the ground gives way to nothingness. My hand drifts in the air next to me, searching for the bannister I know must be somewhere near my fingertips. The urge to open my eyes is almost unbearable. This is definitely different from how I’ve experienced shows at the Fruitmarket Gallery before.

Perhaps I should explain more fully. I am not wavering about on a gallery’s stairs as part of my own individual performance art piece, I am being guided – one hand in mine, one on the small of my back – by someone who has their eyes entirely open (someone who, ten minutes previously, I made take the blind top-of-the-stairs plunge), and this is all part of a Fruitmarket workshop. Around the whole gallery pairs are negotiating corners and narrow pathways, all as part of Topsy Turvy, an intensive weekend workshop of movement and contact improvisation, as a response to Phyllida Barlow’s ‘SET’, Fruitmarket’s current exhibition. The entire point of the weekend is to make you see the artwork in a new way – not being able to see it at all is just the starting point.

Bringing together visual art and movement is not new, but it doesn’t happen all that often. It especially doesn’t happen often for people outside either the art or dance worlds – usually the only people able to throw themselves around near valuable artworks are seasoned professionals. So Fruitmarket gathering a group of twelve young people, for whom the only requirement is interest, for free, is a pretty incredible thing. Allowed into the gallery when closed to the public, given time to study the pieces and taught the principles of contact improvisation in the Dance Base studio space, with professional dancer and choreographer Rosalind Masson leading the weekend’s movement, Goat Media filming the workshop’s process and developments and the gallery laying on coffee and refreshments the entire weekend feels like a fantastic, sneaky privilege.

As well as being an enjoyably different way to experience Fruitmarket’s space, it is also an extremely clever enterprise, for Barlow’s works do indeed seem to call for a physical response to them. Built with hidden spaces, cul-de-sac entryways and jutting slabs there is an intrinsic desire to crawl into, climb on and clamber over the pieces. They seem to only really come into their own with human activity around them. Works of large size but very careful balance, relying on the support of other pieces, Barlow’s SET manages to seem both planned and spontaneous, solid and fragile. Contact improvisation, which relies on bodyweight support, balance and, of course, close contact with others, is a perfect fit.

I saw Barlow’s show when it opened in late July. I liked it, but I must admit, I wasn’t blown away. I thought the giant sculptures that engulf the gallery were impressive, that the layered textures were appealing, that some of the shapes were interesting, but it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight moment. But, if you can carry blind date metaphors into the art world, I am immensely glad the lack of immediate spark didn’t stop me returning. It turns out signing up for a full weekend getting close and personal with the pieces kindled the slow burn; even halfway through the first day I felt my relationship to the artworks changing and intensifying. Both the individual pieces downstairs and the enormous structure filling the upstairs gallery seemed cleverer, yet also more playful. Watching others moving amongst the sculptures gave them a new depth and animation; the gallery seemed to come alive. Perhaps all art shows would benefit from an injection of active reaction.


Turner-ing it around?

So, the Turner prize is heading north of the border. Often deemed the most important and prestigious visual art award in Europe, this year the event will be held in Glasgow, at Tramway. A postindustrial space, in a postindustrial city, almost as far away from London and the capital’s Tate supremacy as possible; the Turner Prize is clearly trying to counter accusations it has gone soft in old age and reclaim the edgy controversy of its youth. The question is, can it? Or will this year’s award further prove the heyday of the YBAs is long gone?

At the time of the Turner Prize’s birth, Glasgow was truly edgy. Edgy as in knife-crime-and-syringes-edgy, rather than exposed-brickwork-artisan-coffee-shop-edgy. The Thatcher years saw urban decay on a grand scale, with violence not far behind. New youth gangs sprang up which were widely believed to be more dangerous than the Glasgow razor gangs of the 20s and 30s (super EDGY). By 1984 George Orwell’s surveillance culture may not have been fully apparent, but neither were many other forms of culture – dystopia was not far off. The majority of Glaswegians were craving stability, let alone a resurgence.

Meanwhile, down south, the Tate Gallery’s Patrons of New Art were courting controversy. From the choice of 19th century painter and national treasure (and now Mike Leigh movie star), J. M. W. Turner, to name the new prize for contemporary artists, to the mysterious anonymous sponsor, to the first winner himself, Malcolm Morley, the Prize caused criticism. Morley was unpopular – he didn’t even return to the UK from his Stateside residence to collect the prize – and the conceptual idea was fuzzy. Was the winner ‘the greatest’ living contributor to British art, or simply an ‘outstanding’ figure? Were the other nominees failures? Was competition good for the art world? Was the art any good anyway? The Turner Prize had definite teething problems.

However, the late 80s saw a blossoming period, that led to a full on bloom in the early 90s. Having narrowly avoided bankruptcy, in 1991 the media love affair with the Turner began, as Channel 4 jumped in as the new sponsor. The prize money doubled to £20,000 and business and art became bosom buddies. As the moneybags got larger, the nominees got younger, as the age limit of 50 was introduced (in 1991 three of the artists were under thirty). Suddenly, the Turner Prize, unlike the eponymous painter, was hip, sexy and fresh. Many of today’s big names of the art world were made in this period, as Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley were named as winners. Critics railed against many of the shortlists, as video art, multi-media and abstract pieces were lauded (the 1997 winner, Gillian Wearing, showed a video entitled 60 minutes of Silence, which, while showcasing actors dressed as police, pretty much did exactly what it sais on the tin). The Turner Prize seemed all too keen to provoke cries of ‘that’s not art!’, if that also provoked column inches of publicity. Craving attention and pushing against the establishment, the Prize was in its teenage years and living it up. It even had an inappropriately drunken night, when Tracey Emin infamously walked out of a live Channel 4 discussion programme.

But there’s one unchanging thing about ‘cool’ – it changes fast. It was no different for Cool Britannia, as the controversial shortlists, media brawls and big bucks began to lose their shine. The controversy was predictable, and so were the artists, as many began to argue that certain London art dealers were really pulling the strings behind the scenes (cough, Charles Saatchi). Quickly, the cool factor was lost to the alternative Turners, from the ‘Anti-Turner Prize’ of £40,000 for the ‘worst artist in Britain’ (in 1993 Rachel Whiteread won both prizes), to the Turnip Prize, whose judging criteria include “Lack of effort” and “Is it shit?”

So, in an attempt to save itself, the award fled. First testing the waters in a jaunt to Liverpool in 2007 – northwards but still in the family at Tate Liverpool – then to Gateshead and Derry in 2011 and 2013 respectively. And now to Glasgow. The idea is clear and double fold: bring the glitz and glamour of the Turner Prize to a city in need of cultural regeneration, while at the same time avoiding accusations of London-centric, Saatchi-sponsored shortlists. Smart move, right?

Except, here’s the thing. Glasgow isn’t the cut throat, decaying city it looked likely to become 30 years ago. The revitalisation of Liverpool can maybe be linked to Turner juices flooding the city, as it supported the city in its bid to become the European Capital of Culture the following year. But with Glasgow, rather than being the push factor, the Turner is turning up late. Glasgow was the European Capital of Culture in 1990, six years into the Turner’s lifetime and only five years into the Capital of Culture programme. Glasgow was the first city in the United Kingdom to receive the designation. It followed Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris, and no one seems to be claiming those cities are in need of revitalising.

Before being host to the Turner, Glasgow has hosted ten Turner nominees as students at the Glasgow School of Art, four of whom went on to win the £25,000 award. Since 1996 seven winning artists have had Scottish links. As London rapidly becomes the sole domain of the super-rich and the YBAs dodge taxes, Glasgow increasingly feels like the natural, permanent home of a progressive, innovative young art scene – but perhaps this is more likely to be found at Glasgow International next April than at this autumns Turner Prize. Watch this space.

where language ends

Seeing shows at the Talbot Rice Gallery always feels slightly like opening a door onto an artistic Narnia. With one unobtrusive entryway leading onto the stairwell straight from a cobbled street and the other tucked into a corner of Old College, emerging into the spacious, light-filled first room can leave you blinking at the snow-white glare. Flanked by the narrower, columned Georgian room, complete with overhead window domes, the gallery is always striking. The space itself seems to be part of any exhibition.

So, with this Narnia-effect sensed at all times, when the first thing to be encountered is a frozen, colourless bear, bathed in an icy blue light streaming from stained glass windows, the disorientation is immensely amplified. Opposite the bear a pianola stands, as if suddenly abandoned by its player. The second room echoes the first, yet is also its opposite, as the frosty blue panes are replaced by deep red and orange glasswork over the glazed cupolas; where the first room is chilled the second is submerged in warm, yet distinctly threatening bloody hues. Loud choral music and disembodied piano strains soar over the hauntingly sparse gallery floor. Ross Birrell and David Harding have expertly used the Talbot Rice exhibition space to create three uncanny, slightly melancholy, yet profoundly beautiful non-places. The White Gallery has the feel of a solitary chapel.

This is appropriate given another work in the show concerns, or is inspired by, or suggests a connection with, the Rothko Chapel. A video focuses on Rothko’s central work in this unique space; the Talbot Rice viewer is placed as if seated thousands of miles away, contemplating the dark paint from a bench in Houston. Viola music fills the accompanying headphones – two instruments playing the same notes, yet just out of time and harmony. We are told one player is Israeli, one Palestinian; the discordant, unresolved notes of ‘Duet’ need no further explanation. The listener, gazing at Rothko’s masterpiece, is left to sense and interpret for themselves the intricate connections between the density of references Harding and Birrell evoke, to feel both the music and the artwork.

However, there is the option of more information. While the videos, sculptures and small prints bear no labels – apparently to be taken on sight and hearing alone – there is a programme sheet saturated with facts, quotation and histories. Usually, it is a sign of a poor show if the programme is either necessary for enjoyment, or stuffed with the special language only found in galleries – the kind that smacks of pretentions and pretence. Neither of these are true of ‘where language ends’; it is definitely not a poor show. Yet, it does gain unperceived depth – seems to almost become a different show altogether – with the stories alluded to on the two A4 sheets. At first the information befuddles, as references to Nazi Germany are mixed with Mexican composers, Romantic poets, and a Polish bear. It is as if the Narnia world is being explained by Wes Anderson. Yet, as the diverse stories of political oppression, conflict and creativity track the pieces, a sophisticated almost-narrative emerges. This is a show about the redemptive power of creativity, about how minds and emotions can be radically altered by art and music. It is about the survival of beauty in places and times of violence and horror. It is extremely clever, but can also be appreciated without words. Harding and Birrell have created something truly, intangibly inspiring.


Jane Bustin, Tablet II

The Ingleby Gallery is a beautiful space, with large windows making the exhibition rooms seem more expansive than they truly are. It is also a professional environment; two of the rooms double as offices and, alongside the artworks, the desks, books and shelving of the gallery’s staff are on display. Which perhaps means that they are taking a risk including Kevin Harman, a prize-winning ECA graduate, in their current Abjad exhibition, as he is most well known for smashing another Edinburgh gallery’s window with a scaffolding pole.

In true art student style, bordering on caricature, Harman shattered the front window of the Collective Gallery in 2009, videoing the event and later screening the film at The Old Ambulance Depot. The converted garage gallery was more than happy to maintain that Harman’s act was an art event – provocative, certainly, but what good art is anything else? Collective Gallery, however, differed on opinion and prosecuted Harman for breaching the peace.

Five years on and everything is a lot more peaceful. Despite the focus of this exhibition being abstraction (contemporary art’s favourite theme), and most of the pieces using found materials instead of traditional canvases, the works remain conventionally on the walls. While Harman’s use of double-glazing units in his works may raise a wry smile from anyone aware of his window-breaking past, no artistic boundaries are being shattered here. All four of the artists exhibited play with material and texture, but in fairly familiar ways.

Most of the works seem to be concerned with the artistic process, rather than finished product. The glossy sheen to Jeff McMillan’s pieces is restricted to the corners of the canvases, which have been found and recycled by being steadily dipped in paint, leaving some of the bare linen exposed.

Paul Keir’s pieces also announce their creation, but generally are less arresting than McMillan’s works. On the ground floor a wall is filled with sheets of paper, covered in green or purple patterns. They are strongly reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois’ Insomnia Drawings, recently displayed at Fruitmarket, but without Bourgeois’ scale or intensity, or the excuse of insomnia, to give them depth. His approach works better upstairs, where his purple drawings cover the wall itself – the closest the viewer will get to any kind of artistic vandalism.

Jane Bustin’s works are not given the gallery range of the three male artists on display, collected as they are in a single room of the show. Yet this scale works, giving Bustin’s small, delicately balanced pieces space and not forcing them to compete with the larger, more imposing works. The pale colours and tea stained edges give them a fragility and a depth that is somewhat lacking in the blocky coloured pieces found elsewhere.

However Harman continues to be the attention-grabbing artist, even without any performance element. His glass paintings are visually stunning, with layers of colour creating rich textures. There can be no dispute that these are, highly skilled, works of art. While the show may be livened up by some provocative act, Harman’s windowpane antics have certainly matured.


Generally, ‘jewellery’ carries connotations of shops – bespoke jewellery of ultra-glossy boutique shops, where items are held under glass to protect from the grubby fingers of unworthy customers, or maybe of workshops, perhaps. Necklaces, earrings and chunky bangles do not usually call to mind the art gallery space. Even when artists do use precious stones, it can conjure more of a Claire’s Accessories vibe than they perhaps desired (Damien Hirst and your diamante skull, I’m looking at you).

So the current exhibition at Dovecot studios is a little bit different from usual gallery fare. Here, the standard notion of jewellery work as ‘craft’, as opposed to ‘proper art’ is muddled. Is this an art show at all? Is it a glorified shop? It seems to fit more closely into the realms of museums, with the dark wood display cabinets, glass covered draws and brass plates showing ‘highlighted techniques’. On one wall single stones are held up as examples. This is part art, part educational tool.

The wooden containers are themselves striking – the wood, like the gemstones, is sourced from Afghanistan and each cabinet on the wall is slightly asymmetrical, with glass spheres attached to their shelves, to display a single item from every angle. There is clearly a huge amount of thought behind every exhibit. And the exhibits themselves are beautiful. Perhaps the displays help guide your attention, but the stones do most of the work. Each is completely unique, each cut and polished to show off it’s own pattern and design.

This is an exhibition that refuses to be a single thing. It purposely blurs the lines between art and craft and between design and commerce. All pieces are for sale, so in some ways this really is a glorified shop. Yet, this is not central to the space or the pieces. They are primarily artefacts that represent a lack of boundaries. Each is evidence of a unity between Britain and Afghanistan – each a product of an exchange of ideas between UK artists and Afghan craftswomen and men. Designs are inspired by Afghan traditional patterns or architecture and techniques are drawn from traditional manufacturing processes. They are more than merely pretty pieces.

It is hard to judge this exhibition against any other current show, as it is hard to define it in itself. However, this must surely be a positive thing, given the project of the young artisans and The British Council is a broadening of connections and techniques. This is entrepreneurship, educational piece, and exhibition space. It certainly transcends normal notions of jewellery showcases.

Dance like nobody’s watching, or Dance like you’re not dancing

Seeing any exhibition at Rhubaba can feel a little like a tumble down an Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole. The only clue that the industrial shutter door, on a residential street on the way to Leith, hides something more interesting than an average garage’s junk heap is the strange blend of sounds managing to break through onto the pavement. Plucking up the courage to follow the noises and step through the small, almost hidden metal door may be something like climbing through the Looking-Glass; you don’t quite know what may lie on the other side.  You certainly wouldn’t expect to stumble out an hour or so later with an uncontrollable Cheshire Cat grin on your face.

What confronts you on entering the current concealed show, ‘Dance like nobody’s watching’ is, in fact, a looking glass of sorts. The small space is made deceptively large by a mirrored wall, sandwiched between two dark hanging drapes. This art studio is disguised as a dance studio, but one with screens on all sides and beanbags and headphones slumped in front of them. It is a ballet studio, games room hybrid.  Which makes it entirely appropriate for the pieces and ideas contained within it, as this show attempts to blur the boundary between dance and everyday movement – between awkward shuffling and smooth performance. It is about the human body and personal space and how we are both afraid of intimacy and crave it.

The screens closest to the door are uncomfortable, and hovering near them feels a little like hovering on the edge of a dance floor, scared that you might make a fool of yourself. One resembles the recent viral hit ‘First Kiss’, but with boredom instead of intimate bonding, as two people hold each other in an awkward embracing pose, while close to the ground an unseen woman presses her fingers into holes in walls and her tongue into cracks on the ground.

Yet, moving into the space properly something changes – the initial awkward feelings are lost, to be replaced with something close to the elation felt when coats and inhibitions are put to one side, so uninhibited dancing can take the lead. Some of these films are just fun, pure and simple. Dominic Watson’s twinned screens, offering two not quite identical visions of the artist in an empty studio space, dancing his heart out, to a booming soundtrack of ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ is surely what everyone dreams some artists do in their alone time. It is impossible not to smile, or even perhaps to want to pull off your shoes and join in.

This exhibition is cleverly constructed, touching, heart-warming and fun. Some of it is sensual, some silly and some slightly unsettling, but it certainly leaves you wanting to spend less time suited and booted and more time turning up the music and turning a hotel double bed into a personal dancefloor.

‘Art School Stole My Virginity’

The idea that art involves sacrifice is common. We generally accept that to create masterpieces artists must be entirely dedicated to their work – that they must give away something of themselves. However, this is rarely taken to the literal extremes that Clayton Pettet, a 19 year old art student of Central Saint-Martins, is planning. In January Pettet will be giving away his virginity to his artistic cause, in front of 100 people.

Perhaps surprisingly for a time when images of more-than-half-naked teens performing sex acts on inanimate objects are commonplace, Pettet’s announcement has provoked a media storm. Pettet has been widely criticised, with religious figures denouncing his piece as cheapening sex and many less than liberal platforms choosing to focus on his homosexuality. Apparently even as the once renegade Damien Hirst is accepted into the establishment, the art world is still able to be shocked – our sexed up culture seems to be thrown by actual sex. Pettet is posing his piece as a debate stimulator, rather than merely a stimulating act, playing on culturally held stigmas around virginity. In staging “the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime performance” Pettet appears to be aligning himself to performance artists such as Marina Abramovic, who specialise in intensely personal presentations where the body is the traditional canvas. But is this really a radical new artistic idea? Is this even art? Or is it just a teenager, desiring more attention than he can get on Tumblr, surfing our social shockwaves?

Pettet’s performance has been announced at an interesting and apt time. The column inches that are stroking their media beards over Pettet’s de-flowering are the same that jumped at the news that Damien Hirst is turning children’s author, and those currently dissecting Grayson Perry’s recent BBC Reith Lectures. Artists are leaving their neat gallery-based boxes for unexpected ventures – and it seems to be concerning us. This is precisely Perry’s topic – since Duchamp put a toilet in a gallery, is everyone an artist and can anything be called art?

We are arguably living through ‘the end of art’, as seemingly everything and anything can be classed as an exhibit, from film to performance to an unmade bed. Perry describes the state of the art world as resembling a “permeable, translucent, fuzzy bag”. So rather than an unwelcome, attention-seeking addition, Pettet’s stunt could be seen as merely the latest piece of debris to spill out. Perhaps ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ is going to act as the last straw that tears the bag apart.

Yet, it is all too easy to pin the end of art on Clayton Pettet and his public sexual awakening. Targeting a gay teenager who, while he may appear irritatingly ‘hip’ and achingly eager to strip off and stir controversy, is still a student, somehow seems obvious and even a bit distasteful. Raising inexperienced Clayton to the level of national artistic bogeyman says more about our cultural fears than about the artistic merit of his piece. Pettet is young and wants to produce art that shocks; in a society that plasters naked bodies over all surfaces, while still fiercely guarding ideas of taboo, is it any wonder that Pettet has chosen his virginity as his subject? In the media storm that surrounds him, Pettet’s questions regarding the lingering stigma around youthful sexuality, male virginity and the reality of sex acts emerge as even more pertinent. This work, while striking some as the ultimate form of teenage narcissism, in fact engages with current issues in a new, thought-provoking way. Pettet’s piece plays directly to Perry’s desire to tighten the art-bags strings; it is exactly Perry’s notion of a “theme park plus Sudoku” – an outrageous exploit that leaves the spectator puzzling over its implications. If art has any function, surely it is this.

‘A Woman Without Secrets’

Unlike Edinburgh’s National Gallery, the columns of which join Waverley Station and the Walter Scott Monument in dominating the heart of the city, the Modern Art Gallery is slightly removed from the central pulse. The bustle of Princes Street that crowds the National’s giant pillars is replaced at the Modern Gallery by a calm, green, sculptured landscape and the message, in cool blue neon, that ‘Everything Will Be Alright’. This impressive, atmospheric, even slightly mysterious location is the perfect space for Louise Bourgois’ hauntingly impressive work to be displayed.

Filling 8 rooms and containing bronze sculptures, textiles, prints and paintings, this exhibition is a grand one, yet still barely scratches the surface of Bourgois’ works. In a video piece, the commissioner of Bourgois’ first retrospective show at MOMA (and the first show for a woman there, ever) describes her astonishment at being led down to Bourgois’ basement and being momentarily able to glimpse the vast scope of her production, before Bourgois snapped the light off proclaiming that she had “seen too much”. This exhibition feels like such a glimpse; no matter how long the light remains on it is impossible to not feel hungry for more of Bourgois’ complex, disturbing, beautiful pieces.

Every artwork displayed contains seemingly endless layers and cycles of emotion and thought. Personal stories – such as the traumatic childhood that saw her father carry out a ten-year affair with Louise’s governess – psychoanalytic study and mental anguish are weaved together. Like the limbs made of cloth that twist together and hang limply from the ceiling, her works twist themes and ideas, making all seem knotted. Disembodied breasts protrude from flesh coloured rock, hands reach out and grasp and eyes watch from within stone and metal cages. These are physical works, concerned with the body – particularly the female, mothering body. Yet they are reflections on emotional trauma, anxiety and depression, so even in the most solid pieces there is a haunting fragility.

Louise Bourgois repeatedly uses spirals in her work, fascinated by the pattern’s control, that seems to give order to chaotic existence, but also aware that within these twists is the threat of unravelling. This constant tension between ordering and complete disorder holds the viewer constantly suspended, like one of the pieces – uncertain and uneasy. The entire show grasps you by the guts and wrenches, almost painfully. It is, despite being only a small glimpse into Bourgois’ intelligence and creativity, outstandingly magnificent.

‘I Give Everything Away’

Louise Bourgeois is a dominating character in 20th century art. Like ‘Maman’, her towering bronze spider sculpture that loomed alongside the British Tate Modern and the Spanish Guggenheim, Bourgeois is an imposing international figure. And for the upcoming months her work will be physically dominating Edinburgh, as two exhibitions display some of the pieces that, as The Fruitmarket Gallery labels, ‘have entered the collective unconscious’.

The artistic authority that Bourgeois’ name now holds is perhaps peculiar, given her relative obscurity until she was in her 70s. Photographs of her show an elderly woman, diminutive and wrinkled – an unlikely candidate for awe and esteem as the majority of older women are confined to the margins. Yet any conception of frailty is mistaken; Bourgeois’ pieces are intensely powerful.

The Fruitmarket exhibition leads the viewer through a maze of paper drawings. These are Bourgeois’ ‘Insomnia Drawings’, all scrawled in a period of eight months during an acute bout of sleeplessness the artist suffered. The sheer scale of the display is overwhelming – over 200 pieces line the walls, in Bourgeois’ typical colour palette of blood red ink.

The restless nature of the artist’s mind is clearly apparent. All sketches, whether geometric patterns, spiralling spheres or unconventional landscapes, contain a certain frenzy; the floral spheres that appear at a distance to float become scratchy and unsteady when seen up close. The same images repeat over neighbouring frames, morphing into other patterns only to re-emerge later in the series.  It is no wonder Bourgeois has entered the cultural consciousness – these works come from and display a struggling unconscious. They get inside your mind.

Yet it is on leaving the insomniac scribbles and moving upstairs that Bourgeois’ artistic dominance, and her talent, is made clear. If the downstairs gallery seems haunted by a spirit of unrelenting drive, the upstairs presents a more deliberate and developed collection. However, the sense of mental struggle remains in these larger, partially printed pieces. The messy, apparently impulsive drawings below are in some ways reflected in the giant papers above – paint is smeared across dark, sketchy outlines, each accompanied by shaky, handwritten words. These are personal pieces; the words are of anxiety and anguish and the images are of twisted bodies. While the drawings may only work en masse, with the context of Bourgeois’ insomnia, these are stand-alone and striking pieces. Bourgeois’ unconscious is revealed and the viewer’s unconscious is invaded – these creations remain imprinted on the mind.

No Foreign Lands

The colossal canvases currently filling eight upper rooms in the Scottish National Gallery are deceptive. With exotic landscapes and shimmering figures that tower over the onlooker in vibrant hues, the exhibition feels alien amongst Scotland’s crags. The title No Foreign Lands seems a conceit. Yet this retrospective of Peter Doig is intimately connected with Scottish nationality, and the idea of nationality and belonging more generally, as, despite the feeling of otherness exuding from his paintings, Doig is a born Scot. This show is in fact a homecoming.

However, it is clear that it is not Doig’s birthplace but the birthplace of these works that has influenced the artist most greatly; Trinidad’s tropical climate is infused in these paintings. The rich colours that make Doig’s palm trees pulsate before the eyes are drawn from the sights before Doig’s eyes for the last decade, as he returned to the country that he first saw as a toddler and apparently long lingered in his artistic imagination.

These paintings linger in the imagination. They demand to be noticed in their grandeur and seem almost destined to haunt the mind due to their uncanny mix of vivid hues and ghostly textures. The paint is often thick – giving the giant works an extra dimension of weight and physicality. Yet they are also hazy, with some appearing mere shadows or water stains. Somehow they are both bold and ethereal; striking and yet intangible.

In one memorable piece, Man Dressed As A Bat (2007), an eery presence with outstretched wings looms above the viewer. The paint is gauzy and fine – brushstrokes are clearly visible – and the entire effect is shadowy and uncertain. Without the title we are unsure if this is man or animal, butterfly or monster, beauty or menace. Many of Doig’s paintings seem to hover somewhere in between dream and nightmare – characters emerge from emerald undergrowth, featureless, or are just too far away to fully grasp.

Doig has created works that are not easy to pin down – like the internationally roaming artist they are not rooted, but seem to shift. The initial apparent conceit of the show’s title is actually ideal  when placed within its quotation (from Robert Louis Stevenson – so there is some Scottish inspiration): “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign”. The viewer is made to feel like a traveller, being offered glimpses into imaginary realms.