The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow is staging a retrospective to celebrate twenty years of Scottish artist Jack Vettriano’s career. Born in 1951 in Methil, Fife, he left school at sixteen. It wasn’t until a girlfriend gave him a set of watercolour paints for his twenty-first birthday that he started to take an interest in painting and taught himself how to paint in his spare time.
1989 saw him submit two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy, both of which sold on the first day. From there his career has rocketed with exhibitions in Edinburgh, London, Hong Kong and New York. He has painted portraits of Zara Phillips and Sir Jackie Stewart and been commissioned for a series of paintings for the Monaco Yacht Club. He has also painted a series commissioned by Sir Terence Conran inspired by the life of Sir Malcolm Campbell and his world land-speed record-breaking car ‘Bluebird’. He was awarded the OBE in 2003 for services to the visual arts.
His work is hugely popular with ‘The Singing Butler’ perhaps his best known work. Famous collectors of his work include the actor Jack Nicholson and Sir Alex Ferguson. The art critics, however, have not been kind to him, with The Daily Telegraph describing him as the “Jeffrey Archer of the art world”. There are those who feel that his work is almost pornographic and the artist himself, in an interview in the Daily Mail, says that he is obsessed by sex: “I grew up in the Methil Docks in Fife. There was a particular hotel where the prostitutes used to work. I was always fascinated by them. I used to visit a sauna in Edinburgh too. I took photos of some of the girls who worked there and later did paintings of them.” He describes himself as melancholic and said that the press criticism has hurt him. Despite this, he is Scotland’s best known living artist.
One hundred of his paintings have been brought together for the retrospective including ‘The Singing Butler’, some of the ones from the Monaco Yacht Club and two from the ‘Bluebird’ series.
Joining a long line of people walking past the paintings, I find myself drawn to the works. Not knowing much about the artist apart from seeing ‘The Singing Butler’ on prints, posters etc, it was a delight to learn more about him through the video interviews playing in different spots and through the self-portraits. My personal favourite was a work called ‘Portrait in Black and Pearl’ painted in 2010. It depicts a woman wearing a black hat, with a grosgrain black ribbon around it, and a fur collar. The eye is drawn to the pearl earring she is wearing, glowing amongst the black. For those critics who have said that Vettriano is a ‘paint by numbers’ artist, I say try producing a work such as this.
The exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is on until Feb 23 2014 and costs £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.