The People’s Painter talks to Pippa Jane Wielgos about Nice, British art and his 20-year Retrospective.Whether you like or abhor his work, Jack Vettriano (neé Jack Hoggan), the Fife-born self-taught Scottish painter, is one of the UK’s most popular, successful, living and profitable painters.
The licensing and distribution of his images has resulted in the sales of more than three million posters and cards worldwide, and his royalties bring in no less than £500,000 a year.
His 1992 iconic image The Singing Butler became a best-selling image in Britain, achieving 20 million copies sold but, later that same year when Vettriano submitted it for inclusion in the Royal Academy summer show, it was rejected.
When it was sold at auction at Sotheby’s in 2004 for £744,500, it achieved a record for a painting by a Scottish artist.
In 2004 Vettriano was also awarded an OBE for services to the visual arts and was the subject of a South Bank Show documentary called Jack Vettriano: The People’s Painter.
His international fan-base also includes collectors such as Sir Tim Rice, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Jackie Stewart, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, Jack Nicholson and Madonna.
Not limiting himself solely to commerce, in 2008 Vettriano was asked to paint a portrait of the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, for the charity Sport Relief (www.sportrelief.com). The 20 x 24-inch oil on canvas sold at Bonhams for £36,000.
His major centenary commission for the Monaco Yacht Club, Homage à Tuiga, came about in 2008 after he produced Tension, Timing and Triumph, a triptych of paintings depicting racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart's third victory at Monaco in 1971.
The series of ten Homage à Tuiga paintings, including Sunshine and Champagne were inspired by the Clyde-built yacht Tuiga, built by William Fife 100 years ago for Duke of Medinacelli, who wanted a boat similar to his friend, Spanish King Alphonse XIII, so that the two 15-metre vessels could race together.
Speaking in 2009 to BBC Scotland, Vettriano described the commission, which took him nine months to paint in his South of France studio, as the “most difficult project” he had taken on in his career.
Vettriano’s work, based on film-noir recreations of popular iconography, has courted much art critical controversy in the UK establishment art world throughout his 20 years as a painter; critics claiming that it’s more akin to “biscuit tin” art or, as he's been described, "a purveyor of badly conceived soft porn”, lacking real skill and accomplishment despite its commercial success.
Vettriano recently sold his London home for £2 million, which included the give-away of a free £300,000 original painting, titled Suddenly Last Summer (a depiction of a former female lover), which he hung over the boiler room door.
The 62-year old artist is considering relocating to Edinburgh this winter. He told the Herald Scotland that he was hoping to find somewhere “you didn’t have to walk one mile to buy a nail”.
He has a studio in London, Scotland and Nice and tells me, “I’m in Nice as often as I can be. I find the climate, the people-watching there and the light such a pleasure and very inspiring. Nice has a glamour to it that is underpinned with a slightly sleazy underbelly, if you look for it, and this leads to a rich seam of inspiration for me. I think I’ll always keep a studio there.”
Vettriano studied works at Kirkcaldy and the Kelvingrove art galleries.
He was quoted as saying, “I am not a great fan of Brit Art because it lacks craft. It’s astonishing, though, how an unmade bed or a shark in formaldehyde does take on a completely different effect when it is placed in the middle of a room.”
Vettriano explains, “I have no time for conceptual work as, for me, I love to see labour and craft, and it’s missing here. That’s why my heroes are from the older generation of painters: Bacon and Freud.”
Between 2011-2013 his self-portrait work The Weight was shown at the National Portrait Galleries of Scotland as part of their major re-opening in acknowledgement to Vettriano being a “symbolic artist in Scottish history” and a “major contemporary artist”.
This, for Vettriano, a miner’s son from Methil (Fife) who has had to fight for the acceptability of his work, must be some modest measure of success.
Still he tells me, “I’m not part of the art world either in social terms or in career terms, but that’s very probably a blessing.”
Vettriano's 20-year career is currently encapsulated in a retrospective of a hundred paintings, including The Singing Butler, Dance Me To The End Of Love and The Weight, at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Glasgow), backed by The Art Fund.
The block-buster level of visitor interest attracted no less than 30,000 visitors in the four days of its opening, and is expected to break attendance records for the gallery.
Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective runs until Sunday February 23rd, 2014.
Tickets (£3-5) can be bought via www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums