Passion or soft porn, Jack Vettriano?

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From Bernard Bale

WHAT is the mark of a genius? Typically, before they excel and then the “welcome mats” are laid out by those who think they are now appropriate and can probably be tamed and educated, they are shunned by the state.

No one has ever tamed Jack Vettriano successfully, whose works are decried as licensed pornography by critics and praised as the passion of a genius by his fans.

More importantly, what does the art that Jack created mean to him ahead of the Fife exhibition next year?

He said, “Everything and nothing,” a response that represents the man himself. “I just enjoy what I do, and I’m thrilled that other people enjoy it, but I’m still basically the same person who was born in Fife in the 1950s. Little has changed except that I’m doing something I wasn’t meant to do – that’s nothing unusual.”

This is a generally humble appraisal of a man who, in fact, was born in 1951 in Fife and destined for a life in the coalfields.

“In those days, almost everyone in the area was involved in mining,” he says. “There was no excuse why I should be an exception, so I began a career as a mining engineer when I left school at the age of 15. I went into the Methelhill mine like my father. I never thought that life would change so much.

I was interested in art and fascinated with some of the work I had seen at the Kirkcaldy museum, but I wasn’t motivated enough to pursue it on my own until I was 21 and I got an aquarelle package as a birthday present. With it, I began to play around and found a new joy in life.

I had no formal training and no faith, but I knew what I liked and it wasn’t too bad for the results. One or two people saw what I was doing and figured I had potential. I didn’t take them seriously at first, but the more I did, the more excited I got about it, the more excited I got.

I think I picked stuff up from looking at the work of other painters. You begin to see how things are done when you start looking past the real representation, the various processes, the different types, and I think that’s how I began in the first place.

Since those early days, much has happened in watercolor painting, and the art of Jack Vettriano now carries his distinctive stamp.

I began to develop my own style, and the majority of people today remember my work,”I started to develop my own style, and today most people recognize my work,”

Not only do they know it, they love it a lot, which is why Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Tim Rice and many other iconic personalities (not even all Sirs) proudly display originals of Vettriano in their homes. His fans are not limited to men, as his originals are also owned by Valerie Singleton and author and journalist Eve Pollard.

The number of ladies who like my job often surprises people. Some people are shocked that a lot of ladies really like it and buy it, because some of my work has been called chauvinistic,” he said.

“It doesn’t surprise me because I know I don’t have chauvinistic thoughts when I paint. For my job, I don’t apologize. I’m not being pompous about this. I’m just doing it and if people like it, that’s all right. I am not putting any trust in what the so-called critics are saying.

Some claim that a great deal of his work is soft porn.

“That’s their business, but often I find that the way someone perceives an image, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, is more a reflection of their own mind than what they actually see.”

After years of being shunned by the powers that be in the art world, the Royal Academy accepted two of Jack’s paintings for the 1988 summer exhibition; they sold within 15 minutes, a tribute to his talent. Since then, two of his most famous paintings, Mad Dogs and the Singing Butler, have surpassed every other picture poster in the U.K. and have even achieved higher sales figures than such masters as Van Gogh and Monet.

“I think the greatest recognition is the support I receive from ordinary people who buy my work in its various forms, whether it’s an original or a print or a greeting card,” he said.

“When my work is exhibited, it’s a nice feeling, but what matters is the joy it brings to the man – or woman – on the street.”

Without realizing, most of us could walk by Jack Vettriano on the street. E

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