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Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dance me to the end of love

Another Saturday Night
So we're at the Jack Vettriano exhibition in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Sis keeps asking my son what he thinks of the glossy images of men and women in dark, dramatic poses. And he keeps trying to sidestep the question.

"They're very evocative," she says. "Like scenes from the Hollywood films on TV when we were young. What do you think, Doug?"

"I can see why people like them," he says and I glance at him, wondering why the evasion.

The Singing Butler
Vettriano is a self-taught artist from Fife, who found overnight success when almost 40, by displaying his paintings for the first time and discovering they sold faster than ice-lollies in the Sahara.

Prints of The Singing Butler now net him a quarter of a million a year and the original - one of a hundred the Kelvingrove borrowed to create the first major exhibition of his work - went for three quarters of a million in 2004. He is Scotland's most successful artist ever.  

And the art critics hate him.
Soho Nights

"He can’t paint; he just colours in," said Sandy Moffat. Duncan Macmillan called his work "dim erotica". Jonathan Jones said his paintings were "brainless".

The criticism hurt the working-class guy and sent him south to live in London. But there has been a backlash. "People don’t like being told their taste is crap," reported The Scotsman

So craven critics, once happy to badmouth Jack in print, now ask not to be named. And prominent people are starting to get behind him. There is an emotional content to his paintings, says writer A.L. Kennedy. "There's a sexuality that's really sexy."

 Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe 
Complaints that he objectifies women come mainly from men, she says. "It's not a subordinate thing. It's not naked women under a tree surrounded by men in suits, who are ignoring them while eating - which is just rude. They should at least chat to them or offer them a sandwich."

So an hour after entering the crowded exhibition we emerge into the dim October day, and cross the road to the little cafe where my son and I had chatted about the Tao.

Love Story
"Tell us what you really thought," Sis says and he looks uncomfortable.

"And why you wouldn't tell us inside," I say.

"I wanted to like them," he says, still hesitant. "I really did."

"But you couldn't?" she says.

"Not much. But with all those people around trying to enjoy his paintings, I'm not going to go, 'I'm an artschool student and Vettriano's crap'. Nobody needs to hear that." 
The Arrangement

"Why didn't you like him," Sis says.

"His technique isn't wonderful and the content is kinda repetitive," he says. "Maybe people read meaning into them that isn't there. Seems to me to be all on the surface. Anything deeper is in the mind of the viewer."

"Did none of the paintings work for you?" Sis asks, and he tugs on the lobe of his left ear. 

"The self-portrait was interesting," he says. "There was real feeling in that one."

The Weight
"Ah ha," I say. "I think I know why. In Vettriano's mind he is the only person in the world who possesses depth, substance and genuine emotion. Everyone else has a role, like buyer, critic, model or sex object. But they don't have an interior life. He does. What do you think?"

"Well let's see," he says scratching his chin and smiling. "Good with words, no talent, talks bollocks. I think you should be an art critic."

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