Issue 222
July/August 2022


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Aug 15, 2022

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Vettriano – coming back to Kirkcaldy

TO GO TO art school or not? That's the question that goes through many artists' minds… and then what if you get rejected?

But then again – look at one of the most successful living artists, who has sold his works for hundreds of thousands and is collected by Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Sir Alex Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and more, and is currently showing a retrospective at Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum: 'Jack Vettriano, The Early Years'. He's the art world enfant terrible as many might view him , although he was awarded an OBE in 2003.

Jack Vettriano: The White Slip

But, as he says, "If I HAD got into Edinburgh College of Art my career would never have taken off.

"So it was a good thing they rejected me," says Vettriano, chatting on the phone from his South of France apartment on a misty July morning, speaking about his latest show, The Early Years, at The Kircaldy Art Gallery and Museum, the first major retrospective since his last show at the Kelvingrove in Glasgow in 2013.

Bravely, Vettriano actually exhibited the very rejection letter that the Edinburgh College of Art sent him on February 17, 1989, to a Mr J Hoggan of 22 West Albert Road, Kirkcaldy, Fife. It was signed by Linda M S Bruce, (MA, PhD) administrative assistant to the associate dean, Roy M Pinkerton, (MA, FSAScot).

But he says rather pointedly: "I beg to ask if these people that made the decision to reject my portfolio – are they exhibiting anywhere now?" Good question.

"I think I came to realise finally I should not be embarrassed by the Hoggans, (his birth name), "Jack continued, "because it kind of takes you through the early work.

"No artist produces a masterpiece at first – and that was what I was really trying to show. As well as putting to bed the whole thing about Hoggan versus Vettriano.

"I don't know if you know the reason for that.The reason was I copied other artists for years, and I put them into charity exhibitions. There's a painting in the current exhibition by John Singer Sargent, The Oyster Gatherers.

"When I completed that painting, I thought – you are good – you are very good! I just needed to find my oeuvre or my style", he explained.

"But I did not want the Hoggans which are sold for £ 50 each, I did not want them to contaminate the style that I had developed, and it wasn't a bad move, it was a far better move", he revealed.

"I've never said once, that I deserve to be in the Gallery of Modern art in Scotland or England. All I have said is they have a budget for purchasing new work – and if they listened to the people I would be up there.

"They buy what they like, this is a committee that decides what should be bought in art galleries but it should be for the people to get the people in," he added.

"At Kirkcaldy on the opening night I said in my opening speech: 'This is where it started and this is where it might end.' I kind of felt I owed it to them. I used to go down every third day and study the paintings and look at the brush work and then I went home and copied it", he revealed.

He has found the past two years of Covid exceptionally hard. The exhibition was orginally slated for 2019, just before the dreaded virus took over.

"Covid has been a horrific time", Jack said, "I was in a very dysfunctional relationship leading up to Covid, and I was standing in a queue at Gatwick flying up to Edinburgh to talk about this very exhibition that was cancelled twice and I could hear people talking about a virus going round.

"By the time I got to Edinburgh there were police putting round cordons. It was rather terrifying, I was booked into quite a nice hotel, but when I got there the kitchen was closed, then the bar closed and then everything was closed. I felt like I was Jack Nicholson in The Shining", he said.

"If you read press articles you will see, I abused alcohol – I just used to buy a bottle of vodka every single day. And get some cocaine and lie on my bed", he divulged.

"I was almost broken by that relationship, and thought: 'Get to Scotland. Get this show on the road', would make things better, but it was such an awful time. I wasn't in the headspace to paint at all. I did two paintings over the period of two years. It was harrowing, although I always keep a note book to write down things that touch me, I did manage to keep that going", he observed.

Having met many famous people throughout his life the one who was most poignant fpr him was, Lucien Freud.

"It was just five minutes, he recognised me and I recognised him, and I thought: 'Fuck it, you only have one chance – go for it.' So I went up to him and I said how much I loved his work. He was such a great man to meet.

"Other than that the best person I have met and know is Billy Connolly. What that guy has come through is just amazing, he is a wonderful guy".

What would be Vettriano's advice be to a young artist starting out?

"Well I would ask them not to sit in a dark room and wonder how they can shock!", he said.

"We are certainly living through strange times, A journalist asked me recently, what about Me Too? "I said, 'I don't give a F' I am not painting women as objects, they are completely in charge of the situation. And as for cancel culture? I have not a clue what trangender is either", he said.

"When models come to me I give them a room to change in. I will explain to them what it is – what my idea is and how I would like them to dress, I am not excited by photographs – it's a job!", he said matter of factly.

And what is a typical day for Jack Vettriano? "It depends whether I am in Edinburgh or France. Usually painting and going for walks and I always try to have a nice lunch wherever I am, I also like to watch a bit of tv in the afternoon – Sky Arts, there's lots of lovely stuff on that."

And favourite restaurants?

"I love Contini in George Street, in Edinburgh and Café St Honoré , Thistle Street and La Petite Maison in Nice."

As he heads back to the studio it's no doubt Jack Vettriano will continue to cause ripples in the art world with his irreverent style and his unique charm.

TESSA WILLIAMS




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