who have never heard of Jack Vettriano will almost certainly have
seen his paintings on posters, mugs and other assorted everyday
items. They have a dreamy, almost film-like quality that capture
romantic or intimate moments between men and women.
is undoubtedly a extremely popular artist as the capacity crowd
at Cheltenham Town Hall clearly indicated. He was there to talk
about his life and work.
he left school, he started work as an apprentice mining engineer
in the Scottish region of Fife. Was he encouraged to try any other
careers at the time?
don't think my parents ever realised there were any other careers.
I love them dearly but they lived in a limited world and their thoughts
were limited. I don't think they ever thought any of their children
could paint or even go on a foreign vacation. I think they brought
me up the way they'd been brought up - to try and get through the
system without going to prison. It was as simple as that.
be a man in that town [Fife] meant you had to drink 14 pints of
lager before you went to the toilet. It was very much a place where
a man was measured by how much he could drink not by how many books
grandfather used to bring back little white betting slips upon which
he used to sketch and that was how he first became interested in
drawing. When did it occur to him to start painting?
didn't actually occur to me, it occurred to a girl I was seeing
when I was 21 after she saw some drawings I'd done. She got me a
box of paints and told me I should try and colour those [drawings]
in! Later I thought 'right, I'm going to be a real artist' and I
went out and bought one of those boxes with six tubes of paint,
three brushes, a palette to work on, and I taught myself.
to the local library and there wasn't a lot [of art books] there
- just a few impressionists and some of the Italian masters. I just
decided that the only real way was to just copy what was done [in
those books]. I started off with Monet's Poppy Fields."
continued to paint through his 20s and 30s before applying to the
art schools in Edinburgh. His portfolio was rejected and the whole
episode was a defining moment for Jack. He explains:
thought that I'd study the history of art as well as drawing and
painting so I applied to Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College
of Art. My portfolio was rejected.
I contacted the colleges and said 'I'm a mature student and this
means a lot to me, it's a whole life change going into full time
study', and I wanted them to say to me 'this is where your portfolio
failed and here's where you can do better'. They said they don't
enter into any discussion with anybody and I just thought I'll do
it my own way.
retrospect that was a blessing in disguise because I think that
unfortunately, but understandably, a lecturer is trying to turn
a student into his own image - that's part of why he's a lecturer,
because he wants to impart his knowledge into you. If I'd have gone
I just wouldn't be where I am now."
hit a defining point in his thirties where he looked at himself
and his art critically, and really assessed what he was doing. He
I think no amateur artist has is a belief in his own ideas, and
actually in having ideas. Being an amateur artist I thought 'what
are you ever going to do that's going to change anything?'. I eventually
thought 'what is it that means anything to you?' and I remember
sitting there, thinking about a few things that always meant a lot
to me were love and romance, and a kind of melancholic look at my
own youth. I worked those things into a couple of paintings; put
those into the Scottish Academy and both sold. It was like a shot
of pure adrenaline.
a couple of weeks the gallery returned and said 'we love your work,
we would love some more of it, we think it can sell'. I realised
there was a future in it after that.
the time my marriage was all but over and I thought that there was
an opportunity to stop working, take a chance and see if I could
make a go of it. I was pretty sure that I could do it as a single
man. I got evicted six times within the first six months of becoming
professional but eventually I was making more [money] than I ever
did - it was astonishing."
the most famous painting by Jack Vettriano - The Singing Butler
- smashed all expectations when a mystery bidder bought it for £744,800
at a Sotheby's auction.
painting (shown above), which depicts a couple dancing on a windswept
beach, had been expected to fetch up to £200,000 at the sale
but auctioneers were stunned as bidding ended at nearly three-quarters
of million pounds.
was something that not even Jack was prepared for. He revealed his
surprise at the sale:
was absolutely astonished. Before the auction I was asked how much
I thought it would go for and I said £100,000, maybe £150,000.
Sotheby's said £250,000 which was nice.
go to the auction but I had a mobile link. I just couldn't believe
what was going on. I think in fetching that kind of money at auction
meant that a few people were hell-bent on buying it. I'm chuffed
to bits that it fetched that amount."
how was this well known and loved painting inspired? Jack replied:
wish I could tell you a great story about me seeing a couple dancing
but it just didn't happen like that at all. The beach started off
because in one of the very first exhibitions I had, a small gallery
in Perthshire, I did this painting of a man on the beach and the
purple effect of his being on the wet sand. This old dear came over
to see me and said 'You know, son, you're really good at doing beaches'.
the time I was busy doing paintings of people in bars and homes,
and I got to thinking that the game of love is played out everywhere.
Why is it when we're in love we're drawn to beaches? You just want
to be on an open beach with the one you love. I thought about my
youth and the days when you could go to Spain for fifty quid for
a few weeks. So I started thinking about this couple on the beach,
don't know where the singing butler came in. I put the butler in
because I wanted to balance the picture. I wondered what the couple
were dancing to, and so he was singing. I wish I could give you
a wonderful story here but this is not one of them!"
Singing Butler has been reproduced on posters, mugs and biscuit
tins across the world. How does Jack feel about that? He said:
a wee point I'd like to make about that. People have said to me
'I've seen that butler everywhere'. Okay, I may have erred on one
or two decisions to let it get put on biscuit tins and stuff but
I'm a believer that [art] should be seen by people and that you
shouldn't need to spend fifty grand to look at a painting.
it'd make me a couple of thousand pounds a year, I had no idea it'd
take off like this. I am proud of it but there are times when I
get a bit fed up with it - I mean, I can paint it in my sleep now!"
revealed that The Singing Butler could have been the property of
the Scottish Arts Council in 1992 but they decided not to buy it.
really sad is that the painting [the Singing Butler] was offered
to the Scottish Arts Council in 1992.
Scotsman [newspaper] contacted the woman who made the decision not
to buy it, and she's now in New York, and she couldn't remember
it which fair hurt me, you know!
reality was that the Scottish Arts Council had £100,000 to
spend that year on new purchases and there's a massive pile of transparencies
on her desk and she's got to go through them all. You can understand
why she decided to say 'that's not quite what we need'."
his prints sell more than those by old masters such as Monet and
Van Gogh, and his distinctive paintings are often reproduced on
all manner of everyday items.
regarded as Scotland's most popular artist yet none of his pictures
can be found in any of the country's national galleries. He has
long felt snubbed by the arts establishment. Does it bother him?
bothers me from the point of view that the National Galleries have
a budget each year to spend money on the acquisition of new paintings
and that money is our money. They don't take into account what people
want. Basically they have what they want. What grieves me is that
people who enjoy my work can't see an original because there are
none to be seen, they [the galleries] don't like them and won't
buy them. I think there should be some mechanism that allows other
tastes to be taken into account.
can't say we want to encourage people to come and enjoy museums
and galleries and not give them what they want to see. It's clear
as day that I've got a huge following in this country, which I'm
very proud of, and it's just such a shame they can't see any of
he think this situation will change over the next ten or twenty
years? He said:
the art world being the sick place it is, what will change is that
when some guy like Nicholas Serota retires from the Tate Modern
the next guy who comes in will think 'what can I do to make a name
for myself?' and he'll say 'I'll buy a couple of Jack Vettriano's
will be going 'I can't believe he's bought a couple of Jack Vettriano's'
and that's the art world. I don't want to swear but I don't care
for it very much.
may happen but the people who're in place just now are not about
to [buy any paintings]. They've dug a hole for themselves with me
and they're not about to say 'actually, I've made a mistake'. They
can't do that."
critic once said Jack Vettriano should be allowed to paint as long
as no-one takes him seriously. Judging by his immense popularity
at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, it's clear that a lot
of people take him very seriously as an artist and they're most
important ones - the public. He really does live up to his title
as the peoples' painter.
piece is based on the Jack Vettriano interview at the Cheltenham
Festival of Literature on Sunday 17th October 2004.
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