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People and Places

Interview: Jack Vettriano

Having a studio in Nice allows Jack Vettriano, Britain's most popular painter an up close and personal view of Riviera women.


Sun Sea and Sex…

…sum up some of Jack Vettriano’s most famous images. From the ever popular ‘The Singing Butler’

and ‘Mad Dogs’

to his latest collection of ten paintings ’Homage a Tuiga’ to mark the centenary of the Monaco Yacht Club’s most famous boat. Tuiga was built on the Clyde, so it was particularly fitting for a Scottish artist to be commissioned to mark the birthday.

A Scotsman abroad…

Vettriano has a studio in Nice and is fascinated by the shadowy side of the city; the criminals, the prostitutes, those with a story to tell. Yet, he is equally interested in the sensual pleasures of the Riviera Glitterati, he is seduced by the beautiful Belle Epoque buildings, the fabulous Ferraris, the lifestyles of the rich and famous and, of course… the Riviera women.

Thus, it was to discuss his views of not only his depictions of Riviera women, but also his thoughts on women in general, that I found myself last week boomeranged back to being a tongue-tied teenager. You remember - the feeling of having to pluck up the courage to talk to the boy you really fancied. Well, that was me, except that I’m supposed to be a grown-up journalist and the male in question is UK’s most popular and best selling artist; not to mention owner of an Order of the British Empire.

Beauty before Age…

You don’t need a degree in art history to spot Vettrianoesque women here on the Riviera and in all of the Tuiga paintings there is a woman, in half she is alone. As a self-confessed keen observer of women, the Riviera must be a playground for the artist, yet he used a model from London to create his desired look. He did acknowledge that there are many such women on the Côte, many naturally beautiful, some having given nature a helping hand and a few having helped it over the edge. He agreed that here the premise of beauty before age holds and that whilst a nip and tuck to keep up appearances was acceptable, it was perhaps a case of Canute holding back the tide. Maybe he could suggest keeping one of his paintings in the attic a la Dorian Gray as the answer here to eternal youth.

Ladies in Waiting…

All the women wait. Simply wait. For whom? Men, I assume.
In ‘Sunshine and Champagne’,

the scene is set for a lovers tryst: phonograph, chilled champagne, girl lounging on deck in a bikini. But she’s alone, has drank most of her glass and is exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly bored.

In ‘Morning News’

the girl sits alone at the sidewalk table, drinking coffee and reading the paper. It’s always such a common ploy and giveaway for women who have to dine alone. Mea culpa!

‘Days of Wine and Roses’

echoes the theme, the loneliness is almost palpable. The females are modern sisters to Edward Hopper’s 1927 ‘Automat’ girl.

All so beautiful, all so sad, sitting down, and stood up.

So is the artist telling us that something is rotten in the state of Monaco? Are looks not enough to hold the men? Are the women all beautiful losers? I think the artist wants us to think so. Vettriano states “I like to paint the frailties of human beings” and in the Tuiga paintings as well as others there is not only isolation, but flawed connections. At first glance ‘Ship Of Dreams’

is romantic, the title leads us to think so too, but the couple embracing are not paying the slightest attention to each other, he holds her with only one arm and she’s glancing over his shoulder looking for someone else. An eye on the future, something or somebody else will come along. I asked if this was the case and we agreed there was a superficiality to life here.

“…Move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder; outrage me, delight my eyes afterwards if you can.”

By his own admission Vettriano paints what moves him - Sexiness. He does, but like Hopper, he is 'a poet in paint of loneliness' too. His images show an almost obsession with a certain type, age and shape of women and his depiction of Riviera women seem particularly poignant. Here, where image can be paramount, where some women take the pursuit of beauty before age very seriously, Vettriano endorses with women with enviable figures, flawless skin, chiselled features. Yet, no-one smiles, few make eye contact, there is a sense of ennui and a desire to escape.

The Riviera may well be a playground for beautiful people but to retain one’s sanity, one has to escape occasionally. This is epitomised in ‘Exit Eden’.

The immaculately and sombrely dressed female, face partially hidden by a huge hat and elegantly sitting atop two Louis Vuitton suitcases realises this. Starkly framed she waits ( another one) under the harsh glare of the sign for Cannes station for the train to take her away from the flawed paradise.

Jack Vettriano can fulfil the criteria of Diderot, not only by his paintings but as the man himself. He continues to send shudders down the artistic elite whilst delighting his buying public. He creates a curious mix of hedonistic pleasures and seedy exchanges, of men with questionable motives and of superficially flawless women .

He is a twenty first century Scottish Byron; mad, bad and dangerous to know. And having had his ’phone number, I certainly hope so!

Please check out more about Jack Vettriano and his paintings at:

His forthcoming exhibition, which will include some of the paintings mentioned here is entitled 'DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES' from March 26th 2010 and begins at Kirkcaldy Gallery & Museum before moving to London and Milan.

Thursday, 10 December 2009    Section: People and Places
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