Last weekend, I tagged along with my parents to the Jack Vettriano retrospective at the Kelvingrove in Glasgow. It’s not something I would have thought to see myself, but I actually really enjoyed it.
It was interesting to see how many paintings I recognised. Many will be familiar with The Singing Butler, one of the UK’s bestselling images, even if you can’t bring to mind the artist right away. His paintings are full of people, mostly in everyday situations – although the oddity of having a couple dancing in their finest wear on a beach means the possible stories of the people in the paintings are interesting to imagine. You can see a variety of them on his website. One in particular struck a chord with me, possibly because of the melancholic title Yesterday’s Dreams, which you can see by clicking here.
A Scot, who uses his mother’s maiden name, Vettriano has been painting since his girlfriend bought him a set of watercolours for his 21st birthday. It wasn’t until 1989 that this hobby became so much more than that, when two paintings submitted to the Royal Scottish Academy show sold on the first day. Now he apparently ‘earns £500,000 a year in print royalties alone’, according to The Guardian.
To say he divides opinions a little bit would be an understatement. If you Google ‘Jack Vettriano reviews’, you’ll find a plethora of scathing critiques. Despite being commercially successful, art critics don’t seem to like him. One woman in the exhibition itself commented, ‘Well, that’s not a very good painting, is it?’ And in one painting of a woman, my mum noticed that one of her hands was noticeably bigger than the other, so it looked a bit bizarre.
I’m going to be honest: I really don’t care about that kind of thing. As long as it’s not some ridiculous piece of modern art, like something that a four-year-old could have brought home from nursery, then I prefer more interesting stuff to the perfect paintings you see in most galleries. His work has been described as ‘simplistic’, but for me it’s simple in a positive way. It is imperfect and unpretentious. In one of the videos dotted throughout the exhibition, telling the story of how he got into art, he says it was a blessing in disguise that he didn’t get into art college. It’s true. His work is really distinctive, but it would probably have been ‘corrected’ out of him.
I realised that in the flat I used to share with Clare and the Working Woman, we’d had a Jack Vettriano print in the hall. I bought a little postcard version of it (above) in the gift shop, along with a postcard of another painting I really liked called For My Lover:
For anyone interested and near enough Glasgow to make the trip, the retrospective runs until 23 February. Considering the exhibition has been on for four months already, it was still busy when we visited, so he must be doing something right!