Monday, July 9, 2012

Vanity Fair Does Jack Vettriano

I normally don't bother reading Vanity Fair magazine, but my wife does. Once in a while she'll call my attention to an article about a subject she thinks might interest me. So it seems that the July 2012 issue had a short piece about the Scottish painter Jack Vettriano. A link to the article is here. (I wrote about him most recently here.)

Here are two out-takes from the article:

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In fact, Vettriano, anointed “the people’s painter” by the British press, is a man in full command of his fetishes, and he doesn’t mind sharing them with the world. He likes tough, voluptuous Ava Gardner-style brunettes: “Blondes,” he says, “have too much sweetness.” He favors earlobes and necks over the standard T&A. “I’ve painted maybe three or four breasts in my life,” he notes. He is morbidly fixated on lips and nails, lacquered a glossy blood red, and on eyelashes heavily coated with mascara. “I once tried applying it on a girl myself, but my hand was shaking—I got too excited.” Stilettos are required (he bid at auction on a pair of Marilyn Monroe’s), as are garters and some form of corsetry (as his Devotion and The Perfectionist make abundantly clear). “Every woman who knows me knows I will give them underwear for Christmas, and it won’t be conventional,” Vettriano advises. He has fixed ideas about stockings too; hosiery (as seen in Dancer for Money and countless other pictures) must be sheer black and fully fashioned with wide thigh tops, retro back seams, and reinforced heels.

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At least Vettriano skeptics cannot accuse the prolific artist of sloth. “I like to look at a painting and see labor,” notes Vettriano, who usually works from photographs he himself has staged and shot. His virtuoso effects of moisture and light on flesh, sand, hair, and metal, which often recall the look of vintage Hollywood movie posters or pulp-fiction covers, are accomplished by dragging a small stiff brush through semi-dried, still-tacky pigments—a technique he modestly likens to blending makeup. Not surprisingly, Vettriano venerates the Ruskinian craftsmanship of midcentury American pinup master Gil Elvgren and, “dare I say, Norman Rockwell.” For Vettriano the idea that his easel paintings, which cost between $48,000 and $195,000, are more accurately classified as illustrations is meaningless. “I don’t make a distinction between painting and illustration, and we shouldn’t get hung up on arguing the difference.” He is more acerbically opinionated about the conceptual approaches of such acquisitions-committee darlings as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, both of whose hands-off methods he considers “morally corrupt.”

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To bring readers unfamiliar with Vattriano up to speed, here are examples of his work.


The Billy Boys

The Out of Towners

Games of Power

Yesterday's Dreams

Only the Deepest Red

A Valentine Rose


One Moment in Time

This analysis is going to be somewhat tricky to write and, in any case, should be regarded as preliminary. That's because (1) one reader of this blog who I greatly respect definitely does not like Vettriano's work, and (2) I've never seen a Vettriano painting in person -- only via images in prints, books and the Internet.

To begin, Vettriano's paintings are not subtle. They tend to have a simplified, poster-like appearance where strong colors are used. Most paintings have areas of flat, solid colors, though there are areas with modeling as well. Generally speaking, a Vettriano doesn't seem to have much in the way of painterly interest, so viewers who savor brushwork don't have much of it to work with.

On the other hand, I suspect that Vettriano's painting will have far better staying power than works by nearly all post-1960 modernists. That is because his images tell stories (or hint at stories, usually); he gets the "illustrator" rap for that aspect of his work. Yet most of the pre-1850 masters, when they weren't painting portraits and landscapes, were also illustrating stories of one sort or another. Furthermore, Vettriano's images have an odd, sometimes unsettling psychological aspect that viewers notice. This is a human connection absent from much contemporary painting. And I contend that connections to a painting via understandable human experiences and emotions are what will make it of interest to future generations. In-jokes, irony, allusions to early 21st century popular culture or politics and other staples of contemporary art lack the vital ingredients Vettriano puts into his works.


dearieme said...

He's just gone up in my estimation, particularly with that Valentine Rose. Your case is well made, Don.

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- Yes, he has improved as he goes along while still being obviously Vettriano. I need to research whether some of his stuff is on public view in the UK before going there next month.

Fiend's Brave Victim said...

There's a painting held at the Kelvingrove in Glasgow, which is holding a retrospective next year. He is repped by the Portland Gallery in London (for actual paintings) so might be worth a try. He's deeply superficial, by the way---they are painted entirely with reproduction in mind. If you come to London and miss paintings by Christian Schad and Meredith Frampton to see that stuff it wouldn't half be a shame.