Play it againJack
Rooted in the shady realms of film noir, the images of JACK VETTRIANO are to be published beside the words of some of Scotland’s most respected writers. The Edinburgh-based artist takes Kathleen Morgan into the dark world of his paintings.
ack Vettriano is standing in the corner of his Edinburgh studio. Above him hang his unframed paintings, their glamour. sleaze and eroticism exposed in the clear morning light. Striking and unsettling. they are the work of a former mineworker and self-taught artist who has inspired some of Scotland’s most
acclaimed writers to reach into the recesses of
The result is a new book, Fallen Angel. published by this month where Vettriano’s images of well-dressed men and sassy. scarlet- lipped women nestle beside the poems and short stories ofScottish literary doyens including A.L. Kennedy, Bernard MacLaverty and Norman MacCaig. Together. the words and pictures explore the glamour and seedy underside of human desire through characters driven to tlout society’s norms. ‘These are people of the night. pleasure seekers who are desperate and lonely, who live life on the edge — dangerous people.’ says Vettriano.
Too shy or perhaps too embarrassed to discuss his overtly erotic work in the cold light of day. he retreats downstairs to an immaculately furnished front room in the Victorian terraced house where he lives alone. lts richly coloured period decor. darkened by half-closed shutters. is the perfect backdrop for a tentative journey into the 41-year-old artist’s mind.
Son of a Fife miner whose father had emigrated from Italy to Scotland. Vettriano avoided the inevitability of the coal face by becoming an apprentice mining engineer at ﬁfteen. In his gentle east coast accent. he speaks of the work ethic his father instilled in him from an early age. ‘I remember him saying: “Look son, I don’t want you to be a miner. Get a trade." I’m not sure he knew artists or accountants or doctors existed. If he did, he certainly didn’t see me as one.’
An art school training was a pipe dream the young Vettriano rarely afforded himself: ‘I knew I was reasonably good at drawing. but I was so bad at everything else there was no way I could have gone to art school.’ He has no regrets about not going. ‘I think that’s the best break I ever had,’ he says. ‘I was able to live a life, having good and bad experiences and meeting good and bad people. My head wasn’t filled with ideas about what art should be.’
Working by day and frequenting Kirkcaldy’s dancehalls by night, he entered the heady world
of adulthood — for him. a potent mix of fantasy
and reality. At 21. he met a young schoolteacher
who recognised his artistic talent and bought him a box of watercolours. She opened his eyes to a world beyond the coal pits of Methil and after taking night classes. he was able to shake the coal dust off his boots for good. As a local government employee. he worked in Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh before moving to the big. bad city of London. Teaching himself the basic skills of painting. he immersed himself in a pastime which was soon to become an obsession.
The turning point came six years ago when two paintings he submitted for the Royal Scottish Academy’s summer show were selected. Vettriano was astounded when he arrived at the exhibition to find both canvasses sold. ‘I remember going back to Fife in the train and the surge of confidence was just amazing.‘ he says. ‘It was like this huge area had opened up that I could explore.’
The characters in Vettriano’s paintings belong to a fantasy world fuelled by images from his past. They claw and glare at each other in the
search for pleasure. lurking in dance hall doorways and railway stations and draped over art deco furniture. Vettriano's women are invariably voluptuous femmes fatales with body-hugging dresses outlining bullet-like nipples or cheaply-dressed good-time girls. Most have cigarettes hanging from their blood- red lips. His men watch them. stalk them. embrace them. sometimes teetering on the edge of uncontrollable desire.
Signalling to the corner of the room. where a painting of two impossibly sultry women in basques and suspenders stands. he admits his female characters are more at home in his vivid fantasy world than real-time Glasgow and Edinburgh. ‘l’m not sure women go around like that.’ he mutters. Asked if he could imagine himself closing the door on his lurid imaginary world. he says no. He will paint only what interests him.
There is love. lust. deceit and seduction in Vettriano’s work — he believes all four exist in our lives. whether we acknowledge them or not. "There is a fallen angel in all of us.’ he says. ‘I
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8 The List 7-20 October 1994