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Issue 8 - Anaffairoftheart

Scotland Magazine Issue 8
May 2003

 

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Anaffairoftheart

ONSTVALENTINE'SDAY,KATEENNISSETOFFTOMEETTHEHUGELYSUCCESSFULSCOTTISHARTISTWITHLOVEONHISMIND,JACKVETTRIANO

ItisnotperhapsthemostlikelysceneforameetingwithScotland’smostsuccessfulcontemporaryartist–afrostyValentine’sDaymorninginapicturesqueEnglishvillageontheoutskirtsofOxford.Iamfilledwithapprehensionandexcitement,ofthatgiddyfeelingbeforeembarkingonadate.Anappropriatesentimentreally,asIpreparetomeetwithmylong-termlove–notJackhimself,ascharmingasheturnsouttobe,buthispaintings.

WemeetatIonaHouseGalleryinWoodstockbeforeadayofexcitingsell-outeventswithJacktoraisemoneyforScottishInternationalRelief,acharitydeartotheartist’sheart.AsIenterthegallery,theimpactofVettriano’svibrantimageshangingalltogetherdoesnotdisappoint.NeitherdoesJackhimself,dressedinadapperdarkvelvetsuit,aredroseneatlyplacedinhislapel.

Unlessyou’readedicatedfan,hisnamemaynotbeinstantlyfamiliar,buttheimagesbytheFife-bornpainterareimmediatelyrecognisableandwillhaveadornedmanyaValentine’scardthedayofourmeeting.Hisworkhascapturedthepublic’simagination,withintriguingepisodesofromanceandseduction,mixedwithglamourandnostalgia.Hehasbecomeaphenomenalworldwidesuccessoverthelastdecade.Twoofhispaintings,MadDogsandTheSingingButler,haveoutsoldanyotherartposterintheUnitedKingdom,eclipsingthelikesofVanGoghandMonet.

Yettheroadtosuccesshasbynomeanstakenanorthodoxroute.Thereisaninevitablefascinationwithhispast,emergingwithnoformaltrainingtobecomeScotland’sleadingartist.Anon-achieveratschool,helefttobecomeaminingapprenticeintheFifecoalfields,beforepassingthroughvariouswhite-collarjobs.Itwaslovethatinspiredhimtobeginpainting–asetofposterpaintsgiventohimbyhisthengirlfriend.Forcedtofithisnew-foundpassionaroundhisjobatthetime,hetaughthimselftopaint,andquickly.Heprogressivelybecamemoreabsorbed,withtheturningpointin1988,whenhesubmittedtwopiecesofworktotheRoyalScottishAcademy.Theysoldimmediately.In1992,hisfirstsoloexhibitionsoldout,ashavemostsincethen.Withthis,hepackedhispaintsandmovedtoEdinburgh.TheFiferwasnowafull-timeartist.

Overhisextraordinary25-yearcareer,hisanthologyofworkhasrevealedsomethingofadualnature.Ontheonehand,therearehisdaytimepaintingsofsunnyseasidescenes,whilsthisinteriornight-timeimagesrevealadarkerside,provocativeandsexy.

Yetbothnarrateastory,exploringthetensionsbetweenmenandwomenandobservingtheirrelationships,allpresentedwithaslickofHollywoodgloss.JackjokesthatheistheBarryWhiteofart.

Vettrianohasawonderfulappreciationforqualityoflightthathelpsbuildauniqueatmosphere,whichiswhycomparisonsareoftendrawnwiththerealismofEdwardHopper.Mostimportantistheemotionwithinthepaintings,andtheemotiontheviewerderivesfromthem.

JackdescribesTheSingingButler,oneofhissignaturepaintings,as“awistful,romanticimagewithaqualitythatupliftsyoursoul.”Manysongsandlyricshaveinspiredhiswork.TakeDanceMetotheEndofLove.

“ThetitlecomesfromaLeonardCohensong.He’sverysincereandsingsofmattersoftheheart,whichappealstome.It’sthecaseofwhereyouhearalyricandyoustarttothink–whatdoesthatmeantome,howwouldIvisuallyportraythat?Iquitelikethatkindofdilemma.SoIpaintedthemdancingaway,andassoonasyoulookatit,yougetthefeelingthey’rejustdancingaroundtheworldforever.”

His‘darkerscenes’,ashelikestorefertothem,thesexyinteriorpaintings,havebecomemorepredominantashiscareerhasevolved.“Allthesebeachpaintingsarepopularacrosstheworld,butifIhadthechoiceIwouldratherberememberedfortheinteriorpaintingsbecausethat’smuchmorewhatI’mabout.

“Ipaintthingsthatpeoplemightnotreadilybepreparedtotalkabout,butifI’mhelpingtokindoftakeawaysomeofthemystique,thenthat’srefreshing.”

Vettriano’sworkingmethods,likealoveaffair,areall-consuming.

“MybestworkhasbeenwhenI’memotionallyillatease,”hesays.

Workingintensely,hehasbeenknowntofinishapaintinginaday,buildingupblocksofvividcolouruntilhiseyedecidesthatthedesiredheadyatmospherehasbeencreated.

“Ittookme25yearstolearnhowtodothatinaday.Youcouldn’tlearnthatinaweek.EvenifIhavenotpaintedforweeksatatime,IknowinstinctivelywhatcolourIshouldbegoingfor.”Anundeniablesignaturestylehasemerged,whichhedescribesasa“curiousalchemy”–a‘stylebyaccident’.

You’dthinkthatthisself-taughtskillwouldbecelebratedandadmiredbyhispeers,yettheScottishartestablishmenthasnotonlyrefusedtochampionhiswork,butseemsdeterminedtodenyhisexistence.TheartsceneinScotlandissmall,andtherejectioniskeenlyfelt.

Vettrianochosetomoveawayfromhishomecountry,tiredofhisstruggletobeacknowledged.Also,whilelivinginEdinburgh,hehadbecomesomethingofatouristattraction,withhopefulfanspassingbytocatchaglimpseofhimathisstudiowindow.

NowleadingamoreanonymouslifeinLondon’sMayfair,hestillretainsahomeinKirkcaldy,Fife,whichhelikestoreturnto.HealsohasarealsoftspotforStAndrews:“It’sgotthatlovelyoldfeel,aplaceofgreatlearning.”Infact,StAndrewsUniversityrecentlybestowedhimwithanhonorarydegree,withwhichheisthrilled.Itseemsheisfinallygettingtherecognitionhedeservesinhishomeland;butperhapsitisacaseoftoolittletoolate.Yougetthefeelinghehaslongresignedhimselftothecriticism.

InabookonScottishart,well-respectedartprofessorDuncanMacmillandismissedVettrianoinabriefparagraph,brandinghiswork“instantlyforgettable’’,saying“heiswelcometopaintaslongasnoonetakeshimseriously.”Hardlywhatonewouldcallconstructivecriticism.Sowhythesourgrapes?

“Idon’tthinkyoucandiscountjealousy,Idon’tthinkyoucandiscountenvy.Ialsothinkthathejustdoesnotlikethework,hedoesn’tengagewithit,itdoesn’ttouchhim.Ialsohaveatheorythatifyouareasexyperson,youlikemywork.Ifnot,itwillgorightover.

“Itmustbedifficultfortheestablishment–theyreadinthepaperthathereisthisguythattaughthimselftopaintover20years,andsuddenlyhehasburstontothescene.It’slike,wecan’thavethat,we’vegotpeoplewhostudyartandwemouldthemintoshapeandhereisthisguycominginthebackdoor–wecan’thaveit!

“Ithinktoo,thatIhavehadmassesmorepublicityinScotlandthananyotherartisthaseverhad,andthatcannotbeeasyforsomepeopletotake.Ifsomebody’slightshinestoobright,ithastobeextinguished.”

Hemayhaveacceptedthenegativityinherentinhissuccess,buthedoesfeelthepublicarebeingdeprivedofwhattheywanttosee.OnlytwoVettrianooriginalshanginScottishpublicgallerywallspace,bothdonatedandbothinhishometownofKirkcaldy,notthecapital.

Hisoverexposureismarket-driven,andhedefiantlybelievesthathispopularityshowsthatheisdoingsomethingright.Hisworkisnot“instantlyforgettable”tothosewhobuyhisimages.“IfyoulookatTheSingingButler,ithassoldoveramillioncopiesintheUKalone–theremustbesomethinginthat.

“Ithinkthere’sthistheorythatifsomethingisreallypopular,itmustbetrash.Itcan’tberubbishifit’stouchingsomanypeople.I’mnotsayingit’sgreat,butI’msaying,ifsomethingisthatpopular,it’stouchingsomeone.

“WhatIloveistheabilityIhavetoengagepeople,togetthemtostopatapaintingandstandforawhiletoworkoutwhoisdoingwhat,insteadofmovingon.Itreallydoestouchpeople,andthatisveryrewardingforme,toknowthatIdothat,andnotalittlehumblingthatyoucantouchsomanypeopleacrosssomanyborders.”

FromcelebritybuyerssuchasJackNicholsontoartstudentsaskingtoadviceto90-year-oldladiessendinghimfamilyphotographs,Jackislovedbyawiderangeofpeople,whichdelightshim.

Hisworkidentifiesemotionsimportantineverydaylives.OnefanwrotetosayshehadsentacardofhispaintingTheDriftertodumpherpartner–fewwordswereneeded…

“Funnily,menneverwritetome.Butthenifyoulookatthework,youperhapsseewhy!”

Therichandfamoushavealsoknockedonhisdoor,buthehasbeenveryselectiveintakingcommissions.HisworkfortheBluebirdClubinLondonwascommissionedbyTerenceConran,thefamousdesignerandrestaurateur.Asithappens,thepaintingsoftheBluebird(thecarthatbrokethelandspeedrecord)broughthimtohisknees.“HowcanImakeacarsexy?Ineedawomaninit!”

Whilstacceptinghispopularity,heissensitivetothedangersofoverexposure.Requestsarefrequent;hewasrecentlyaskedtoopenamaternityhospital!However,hefeelstherearecertainthingsapaintershouldn’tdo,andwantstoremainloyaltohisoriginalpassion.Herecognises,however,thatheisinthepositiontogivesomethingbackbyexploitinghissuccess,largelybydoingcharityworkforScottishInternationalRelief.

“Ifyoucanchangethevalueofaprintatauctionfrom£5to£2,000or£3,000bysigningit,thenI’lldoitquitereadily.That’stheplussideofsuccess.”

JackfirstbecameinvolvedwithSIRwhenfundraiserDianaZajicekcontactedhimtodonateaprintforacharityauction.Afteritsoldforagoodprice,Dianawroteandthankedhim.

Jackexplains,“Iwroteheraweecardinreturn,andIsaid,youknow,anytimeyou‘rehavinganauction,letmeknow.”

Shetookhimathisword.

“Strangelyenough,therewasanotherauctionalmostinstantly…andnowIamaslavetoSIR!”helaughs.

TheimmensesuccessoftheauctionfuelledtheideafortheIonaHouseGallery,thankstoDiana’screativethinking.

“Wehadsomanygoodartcontacts,itwasmadnesstolosethem,sowesetupbusiness.”

Thegalleryisrunjustlikeacommercialgallery,butalltheprofitsgotothecharity.SpecificcircumstancesleadtothelocationbeingWoodstock,Oxfordshire,butithappenstobeoneofthosethingsthatworkedoutwell.

“It’sgreattobringScottisharttoEngland,andit’ssuchacentrallocation.”saysDiana.

AlthoughfilledwithVettrianoprintstoday,thegalleryisashowcaseforavarietyofartfromScotland.Thesideroomsofferatasterofotherartiststhatexhibitfrequently,suchaslandscapepainterJohnLowrieMorrison(Jolomo).Itisrunlikeafamilybusiness,withenthusiasmandcarefuldedicationfromthestaff,awarethattheyareworkingwithcharitymoney.Theyneedn’tworry,aswiththebestcollectionofreproducedworksandVettrianomerchandiseondisplayhere,stockisflyingoutthedoor.Buttoday,fansarereallyhereforachancetomeetthemanbehindthecanvas.

Likehispaintings,theeventisaglamorousaffair:redroses,champagneandchocolatetruffles.Stylishlydressedartloversaremillingbeforehisprints,intentlydiscussingwhichonesaretheirfavouritesandwhattheymean.Inthisupmarketenvironment,thearttakescentrestage,ratherthanthecharityappeals.

“Jackmayjokeaboutbeingaslavetothecharity,”saysDiana,“buthehasbeenanamazingpersonforus.Notonlyhashelaunchedthegallery,butalsotheamountofmoneyweraisethroughhimisphenomenal.”

“Itisgreatforus,beingsopassionateaboutart,passionateaboutthecharityandbeingabletobringthetwothingstogether.”

Itmustbelove.